Due to Tooele County’s vast size, growing population and complexity of issues, choosing the Tooele Transcript Bulletin’s top 10 stories of the year is never an easy task — and 2017 was no exception.
We made those picks in last Thursday’s edition and refreshed everyone’s memory — including our own — as to the “what” and “why” behind last year’s top stories. Coming in at #10 was the officer-involved shooting at Aragonite, preceded by the Midvalley Highway, Tooele County Government Study Committee, new school construction, Tooele’s first woman mayor, suicide prevention, opioid epidemic, Utah Motorsports Park, and the Fassio Egg Farm fire.
Each of those compelling stories deserved top 10 status. But, perhaps in an unusual twist, our pick for the top story of 2017 didn’t involve a gun, a fire, or some other tragic event or calamity. Instead, the top story of the year was about something far less dramatic, yet still highly impactful: the often challenging, frustrating, and even dangerous workday commute between Tooele County and the Wasatch Front.
For the thousands of local residents who drive to and from the Wasatch Front through Lake Point for a paycheck, the story is all too familiar. Whenever an accident occurs on state Routes 36 or 138, or on Interstate 80 or state Route 201 between exit 99 and points eastward, the morning and evening commute either slows to a crawl or stops entirely for an extensive period of time.
Sometimes the delay is caused by bad weather — or even a pothole repair project by the state, like the one last Jan. 30 that reduced the I-80 off-ramp at Exit 99 in Lake Point from two lanes to one during the evening commute. Thousands of commuters and motorists from Tooele County were literally stranded on I-80 and SR-201 for hours. The event was so significant, Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, wisely took responsibility for the chaos and issued a public apology by online video.
But as any local commuter or motorist can retell, Jan. 30, 2017 was only one of numerous times throughout the year during which the drive between Tooele County and the Wasatch Front was fraught with delays. The source of the problem is easily explained: There are simply too many residents who rely daily on one route in and out of Tooele County between Lake Point and Black Rock.
Fortunately, the problem may soon be reduced, but regrettably, not eliminated. Last May, the State Transportation Commission approved $74 million to fund the first phase of the proposed Midvalley Highway. That first phase is to construct a full interchange on I-80 about five miles west of Lake Point. Either a two- or four-lane highway will extend from the new interchange to SR-138 near Sheep Lane.
After decades of talk, it appears the Midvalley Highway, a least its first phase, will finally come to Tooele Valley and help reduce commuter, motorist and commercial truck traffic. But the new interchange won’t solve the problem of having only I-80 as a route between exit 99 and Black Rock. As Tooele County’s population continues to grow, alternative routes out of Tooele Valley will have to be developed.