It’s hard to believe that a pothole repair on an Interstate 80 overpass at Lake Point could flip an evening rush hour commute on its head and cause thousands of Tooele County residents to get home hours after dinnertime.
But that’s exactly what happened on Jan. 30 and the fallout from that debacle is still being talked about. It isn’t every day that the executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation posts a video on social media to own the mistake and apologize.
The problem began earlier that day when crews started to repair a “football-sized” pothole on the overpass’s outside westbound lane. But the size of the pothole grew when crews couldn’t find stable concrete around it to anchor the repair effort, according to UDOT.
The bigger hole required a larger concrete pour to fill and evidently a longer, overnight cure time before it could withstand traffic. As a result, UDOT couldn’t reopen the lane, leaving only one westbound lane open at exit 99 to accommodate thousands of evening lcoal commuters.
The bottleneck caused westbound traffic to back up for miles both on I-80 and state Route 201. One commuter reported that impacted traffic was observed at 7200 West in Salt Lake City. Predictably, the melee triggered a blowback on social media that wasn’t lost on UDOT executive director Carlos Braceras.
Wisely and thoughtfully, he wasted little time reaching out and apologizing to affected commuters.
“There was a big delay,” Braceras said in his mea culpa video. “Some of you waited 2 to 3 hours to be able to get home. For that I apologize.”
While he applauded the work of UDOT crews to make the bridge safe, he acknowledged the department could have done better letting motorists know about the impact on their travel.
“We screwed up,” he said. “We could have done better in keeping you informed of what was going on.”
Braceras’ apology is welcomed, accepted and acknowledged. Yet, a question lingers: UDOT hires out and oversees complex, high-dollar road construction and repair projects every year throughout Utah and knows traffic flow management. The agency’s skill and experience in such matters runs deep — except for potholes on heavily-used exits like exit 99 at Lake Point?
Braceras said UDOT took immediate steps to understand why the delays happened and ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. But was the situation so unique that UDOT couldn’t have done more to prevent what happened that night?
If not, then two things appear certain. First, never underestimate the disruptive potential of a big pothole to rush hour traffic on SR-201 and I-80. And second, vehicle access in and out of Tooele County at Lake Point is too vulnerable and needs to be remedied. Local officials have been asking and preparing for that remedy for years. Thankfully, progress is being made in that effort. (See related front-page story).
Although a lot of citizens were inconvenienced that night, there is an upside: Any lingering doubts by UDOT or the Legislature over Tooele County’s need for an additional I-80 exit near Lake Point — and the Midvalley Highway — may now be silenced.