Utah Department of Transportation officials met with Tooele County residents at Stansbury High School during an informational meeting Tuesday evening.
The 6 p.m. meeting got off to a late start, however, due to a traffic accident on Interstate 80, which delayed attendees. About 20 minutes late, the meeting got underway and residents continued to trickle in after being delayed by the accident and congestion on the interstate.
UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras was in attendance at the meeting, which was organized by Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville. Nelson cited the Transcript Bulletin’s selection of commuter delays as the top news story of 2017 and a subsequent editorial, for his impetus to organize the meeting.
“I know it’s big to the residents, because I with you, have been caught on the bad days,” Nelson said. “We have slow downs, on the bad days coming through that bottleneck at Lake Point. If there’s an accident like today, a weather event, we’re just stopped. There’s no way around. We just wait.”
Nelson said the meeting Tuesday was intended to illustrate government representatives and UDOT are working to alleviate problems with commuter congestion at the choke point.
“This is a serious problem,” he said. “It’s important to all of the residents. The commuter problem affects our livelihood, it affects the time with our families, it affects our activity time after work and most importantly, it affects our safety as we travel back and forth through that dangerous stretch of road.”
Braceras said stories of traffic congestion are common throughout the state, where housing infrastructure and growth have outstripped the ability to create new roads.
“What I’ve learned is the traffic issues that you’re dealing with are very real to the people that live there, and you may not be able to compare numbers to numbers to what’s happening in a bigger city versus a smaller community, but they’re just as real,” he said.
UDOT Region 2 Traffic Engineer Brad Palmer gave a presentation that compared traffic flow and average speed of travel on I-80 and state Route 36 to the same issues on Interstate 15 and Bangerter Highway. Palmer showed a favorable comparison between the Tooele County roadways and the Salt Lake County roads, which have much higher daily capacity.
Palmer also showed the periods of highest congestion on I-80 had a briefer duration than those on I-15.
In addition to the comparisons, UDOT representatives discussed past and future projects intended to increase safety and reduce traffic. Past projects highlighted included the $25.5 million Main Street reconstruction project in Tooele City, the installation of acceleration and decelaration lanes on SR-36 at Canyon Road, and the median barrier between state Route 138 and Bates Canyon Road on SR-36.
While the Midvalley Highway, with its $74.4 million initial phase slated for 2019 was a focus of UDOT’s presentation, other near-future projects were highlighted. The replacement and expansion of the bridges at Black Rock and Exit 99 on I-80 is expected to begin this year.
The new bridges will be built alongside the existing structures to reduce traffic impact and will have the capacity for a future additional lane.
“Both of these bridges are bridges that are in really poor shape, some of the worst ones that we’ve had in the state, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to get this funded for a number of years,” said UDOT Region 2 Director Bryan Adams.
Other projects still in early development include an auxiliary lane on I-80 between the state Route 201 on ramp and Exit 99, as well as a potential SR-201 extension, which would connect directly to SR-36, creating an alternate route north of the Oquirrh Mountains. Neither of those projects are funded and the SR-201 extension comes with a projected price tag of $200 million.
UDOT officials also took a number of questions and answers from those in attendance at the end of the meeting. Residents expressed concerns about the Midvalley Highway and other projects providing alternate access to I-80 but no alternate route if the interstate becomes backed up due to an accident or bad weather.
Another concern expressed by multiple community members was semitrailer traffic in Lake Point using the Travel America truck stop. Residents expressed concerns with slow-moving trucks pulling out into traffic traveling at highway speeds in the area and requested semis take some sort of alternate route.