The Utah Department of Transportation has decided to proceed with an environmental assessment and final design of a standard gateway interchange at Helper on U.S. Highway 6.
UDOT reached the decision after an exhaustive consultation with Helper citizens, business owners, local elected officials, Carbon County commissioners, state legislators and traffic/safety engineers.
Project designers are now moving forward with a goal to advertise the project for bid early next fall and possibly start construction in winter 2002.
UDOT officials started nearly 18 months ago with a promise of funding from the Utah Legislature, a clean sheet of paper, a few maps and two goals. The first goal involved reconnecting the city of Helper and the second focused on improving the safety of U.S. 6 through the community. More than 37 alternatives were initially identified.
UDOT representatives met with the public in June 2000, May 2001 and last November. They also met several times with a citizens' advisory committee, the Helper City Council and the Carbon County Commission.
"Our goal is threefold," explained Dal Hawks, director of UDOT Region Four. "We want to meet the transportation needs of improving safety, be an asset to the community of Helper and avoid any conflicts with the natural or built environments. This alternative best meets these three goals."
At the specific request of local citizens, UDOT looked two and three times into the installation of traffic signal lights on U.S. 6 passing through Helper.
"We recognize that residents of Helper are concerned with safety and that residents of Helper are concerned about local businesses and their economic health," pointed out Mike Miles, UDOT project manager. "Signals would be an incremental step toward safety. An interchange is a leap forward."
Traffic signal vs. diamond interchange discussions were one focus of a meeting of state, county and local elected officials on Dec. 18. It ultimately boiled down to a decision by UDOT to combine the safety of an interchange with a commitment to make it a gateway to Helper, rather than a bypass road.
Plans may include gateway, welcome and available service signs, lighting and other aesthetic considerations to maintain the economic health of Helper, according to UDOT officials.
"We want to visually tie this interchange into what is happening with Helper's Main Street development plans," said Bob Jacobs, project manager with Stanley Consultants, a firm hired by UDOT to perform initial research and design tasks for the project.
The interchange will include on- and off-ramps to a four-lane U.S. 6 at the north Main intersection. The project will also include an overpass at the north Main Street-Martin Road intersection.
The design team will continue to work with the citizens advisory committee and local elected officials to guide the design of the interchange
"This gateway interchange will be something that Helper and UDOT can both be proud of. This is the safest thing to do. It is the right thing to do," indicated Hawks.