Last summer when a semi truck that was headed through Spanish Fork Canyon turned over and exploded in the Red Narrows, we all learned how vulnerable we were to transportation disruptions in eastern Utah.
A couple of weeks ago, when another tractor lost it's trailer containing a potentially explosive cargo in the middle of Highway 6 near the junction with Soldier Creek Road once again we learned how easily our routes in and out of town can be shut down.
That afternoon I was actually headed toward Wellington when I got a call from my office that the accident had occurred. As I drove toward the mishap fire trucks and other emergency vehicles went by headed toward the site. When I arrived I found traffic backed up about a half mile. The Highway Patrol was routing traffic either back toward Price or down Ridge Road toward Highway 10. Many of the large trucks that use the road were pulled over to the side with their drivers probably hoping the closure would be short lived.
I parked my truck and got out and walked toward the accident hoping to get a few photos of what was going on. From the time I started walking I could see the trailer laying across the road. It wasn't tipped over, but from my estimation at the time it looked like a broken animal laying across the pavement, its front legs crunched underneath it, unable to get up off the ground.
I was able to get within about 100 feet of the trailer before some emergency personnel told me they couldn't let me get any farther because of the danger. They said there was 40,000 pounds of ammoniam nitrate in the cargo box. I remembered that in the Oklahoma City bombings Timothy McVey and partners had only used 2000 pounds to bring about the largest domestic terrorist attack in the history of the country. While I also knew that alone the material usually was not explosive, I still could conjure up what would happen if by some stretch of the imagination it went off.
Soon two semi-truck tow vehicles arrived, and along with fire personnel the drivers of those trucks went to check to see if they could raise the trailer and get it off the road. I later learned that as they inspected it they found what they thought to be a crack in the frame. The fear was that the trailer might break open or split if raised. By this time the Carbon County HAZMAT crew had arrived and it was determined that everybody for some distance around needed to be evacuated. Firefighters went to homes in the area and asked people to leave. When they were finished Walker's Truck Stop never looked so deserted. I am used to there always being at least four or five large semis in the lot, often many more. That afternoon it appeared an abandoned business.
They moved all of us standing on the sidelines back while emergency personnel determined what could be done.
At first it was thought it might take up to a day to move the trailer out of the road safely. This bode poorly for the situation. Traffic on the north side of the mishap could be rerouted. However on the south side it was backing up more and more and of course the route around the accident for most of the vehicles on that side would have been to head for an hour back to Interstate 70, over to Highway 10 and north again.
However due to the fine coordination of almost everyone involved the road was opened five hours later. It was a triumph of local emergency workers in conjunction with private industry to get things rolling again so quickly. We owe all of them a lot for what they did.
This mishap, which turned out to be minor in terms of damage, once again pointed out the fact that Carbon County is at the mercy of accidents on this road. In 1983 it was a slide at Billies Mountain that showed how our life and economy can be disrupted for a long period of time. Last summer it was the explosion in Red Narrows. Now this incident. And of course every time there is a major accident in the canyon, traffic comes to a halt for up to a few hours.
Highway 6 can easily be equated to an artery in the body. As long as it flows well, things move along and the area survives. But if any blockage occurs, it immediately affects the livelihood of the region.
The answer to this is exactly what the Utah Department of Transportation has been proposing for over a year; a four lane divided highway, with regular entrances and exits like exist on any interstate. Divided roads allow for traffic flow when one side is closed, even if the non-affected side of the road has to be turned into two single lanes going each direction for awhile.
Whether that would have changed things last week, I don't know. Maybe the trailer would have come off somewhere else or under an overpass where it might have threatened all lanes.
All I know is that many of the legislators blew it this year when they didn't vote to fund a bill that would have provided funds to do much of what needs to be done on Highway 6.
Like too many government boards, councils and legislative bodies in Utah they seem to be more worried about peoples morals, what officially constitutes a family and about trying to take away the power of local school boards to decide what their science curriculum should be, than they are about people's lives and the health of a whole region of the state.