When I moved to Tooele County in 2001, Utah Department of Transportation crews were hustling to complete construction on the off ramp of exit 99. Rush-hour travelers coming home from Salt Lake City would be met, several miles before the exit, by an endless sea of tail lights. That was a rough time in Tooele County to Salt Lake commuting. In the time since then, there have been only a handful of incidents to slow my commute, which is more than anyone could ask for. It wasn’t until the bridge repairs in early 2017 that the amount of traffic coming from Salt Lake was fully realized.
In the past 16 years, Tooele County has grown severely and the amount of SLC travelers has gone up at the same rate or maybe even higher. Now, if you show up to the eastbound connecting lanes of state Route 36 after 6:30 a.m. and Interstate 80’s southbound off ramp to SR-36 after 4:30 p.m., settle in for some slowdowns.
In a recent KSL survey, Tooele and Grantsville commutes ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the state. The UDOT closure at exit 99, a few months back, was one of the most ill-prepared pursuits to fix a road I have ever seen in my life. The one-lane closure to repair the concrete on the overpass turned into several hours of backed up traffic. The traffic backed up as far back on I-80 as 5600 West in Salt Lake. Surely this was something that UDOT had full knowledge of and they intended to get around to it or not.
The rule of thumb in building any structure is a minimum of two egresses. Geography was not kind to the settlers of Tooele Valley, but look at similar situations like the Point of the Mountain in Provo. Even though Interstate15 is high on the bluff and the geography is less than desirable, there are still at least two ways through the Point of the Mountain. Kennecott may provide a little bit of a caveat to the construction of an additional road or public transit access but there needs to be something more. When all else fails, eminent domain seems to always work.
Another exit farther west on I-80 is also a must but will be useless in the event of a huge backup on the westbound lanes of exit 99, without another path around or turn lanes (not one but at least two) originating far in advance of the exit. Salt Lake Valley with its $270,000 townhouses and diminishing acreage to develop, has provided several real estate booms to Tooele County. In the middle of all those booms, there has not been another major infrastructure improvement since the off-ramp update in 2001. The time to be proactive is either passed or is quickly closing in. The time to act is now.