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June 18, 2013
Vernon locals decry road to gravel change

Tooele County’s plan to chew up asphalt on portions of Faust Road and revert it to gravel has angered residents over travel safety and loss of convenience.

“The road seems like a step backward,” said Vernon Mayor Kent Sagers. “It just seems like a waste to tear up a road. It’s not in the best of shape, but there’d be so much wear and tear on the cars [with a gravel road], and there’s a lot of people in Vernon who go that way.”

The 11.5-mile stretch of road between SR-73 at Five Mile Pass and Faust was gravel until 15 years ago when the county paved it with a kind of asphalt the county got for free from Utah Power and Light.

The county used the same product on a three-mile stretch of Lookout Pass Road beginning at SR-36. That stretch is also scheduled to be converted back to gravel.

The free asphalt was laid directly onto the existing gravel road without an additional base applied first to give the asphalt more strength.

As for alternative routes to taking Faust Road, Sagers said it adds about 18 miles and 30 minutes to a drive. He noted the additional time and mileage puts a significant crimp in the lifestyles of residents in the area.

“For going to the southern part of Salt Lake County, that’s the shortest way to go, and over to Utah County. There are a lot of people with ties to Utah County — they used to live out there, they have children out there,” he said. “Right now it’s as close to go to the Saratoga Springs’ Walmart as it is to go to the Tooele Walmart, and the Saratoga Springs’ Walmart is nicer.”

Sagers said he also has concerns about the safety of the gravel road, especially if it becomes neglected.

“When I moved out there, half the road was gravel, and there have been less accidents since they paved it,” he said. “There was always someone rolling over because people don’t know how to drive on gravel.”

Rick Lybbert, owner of Last Chance Resort at Vernon, and a homeowner in the area, also said safety is his main concern with the county’s plan, far above any thoughts about what a gravel road might do to his business.

“[Any possible effect on business] is not my concern at all. I own a house out there and I travel this road continually, and my bigger concern is the safety of my family and friends,” he said.

Lybbert cited a decrease of visibility from dust and loss of traction as his two main concerns with a gravel road.

“We certainly understand the financial situation of the county,” he added, “but we feel like the decision is probably short-sighted. Probably we’re going to end up with a road that’s not as safe as the one we now have.”

The road, from the railroad crossing at Faust to SR-73, is in places pitted with potholes. Sagers and Lybbert both acknowledged the road is in bad shape in some places, and suggested ways to avoid the cost of having to replace the entire stretch until the county gets in better financial shape.

Sagers said he felt the road could still be used if the worst of the potholes were filled in as a temporary fix, while Lybbert suggested grinding up the asphalt only in the worst places. Signs could be erected to notify drivers that the asphalt was about to briefly change to gravel. Both also acknowledged the impracticality of replacing the road with the county’s current financial situation.

People living outside the county, too, frequent the road, whether for Last Chance, other recreation or as a shortcut from Utah County. Daniel Burton, owner of Epic Biking in Saratoga Springs, organizes two bicycle races a year, both of which utilize Faust Road, which he said is a perennial favorite among cyclists in his area.

“There’s cyclists who use that road all the time. It’s pretty common to start here in Saratoga Springs and ride out to Vernon and back on that road,” he said. “I get people who start from the parking lot here all the time to do that.”

Burton acknowledged that there were some deep potholes on the road, but said race organizers dealt with the problem by warning participants of the holes with orange road paint. Those potholes can be a pain, he said, but can be ridden around — unlike miles of gravel road on the race route.

The race cannot be kept on SR-73 because of a lack of shoulder on the highway, he said. Furthermore, the whole point of one of the races, the Pony Express Century, is that part of the route is on the Pony Express Trail.

“It makes it so I’ve got to go something completely different for my ride. A road-bike ride on a gravel road just doesn’t work,”  he said. “Riding that historic route on the bike can’t be done anymore. I’ve been looking to figure out how I can make a different Century ride that doesn’t use that road, and so far I haven’t been able to find one that works.”

Tooele County Commissioner Jerry Hurst said he has not had any calls or letters from Tooele County residents, though he has heard some from Utah County residents about the road. At a meeting held to discuss the road issue, he said, only a couple of people from Vernon were there and he discussed concerns with them. He said while he can understand how residents might be upset, the road is long past its longevity and is unsafe as-is.

“It was material that was hazardous, but it was rated to go down as a road,” he said. “As far as it being a constructed, paved road, there was no base, there was no sub-base. They just mixed it with asphalt to bind it and put it down. They expected to last a few years. It’s lasted longer than a few years, but now it is failing.”

Hurst estimated it would cost $92,000 to fill in the road’s current crop of potholes.

“If we fix the potholes, we’re just going to be chasing the potholes forever. And the last couple of years they’ve done that — they’ve filled potholes, but it’s to the point where it’s not repairable,” he added.

Hurst said by milling the road up, grading it regularly and spraying it with magnesium chloride to keep the dust down, he believed the road would be much safer than it is at present, as well as more fiscally attainable.

“We perceive it will be safer after it’s milled up. What’s happening now, we’ve had some problems on that road with people tearing up their vehicles because they’re going down what they perceive to be a good, paved road, and then they get to those bad areas and don’t react quickly enough, even though we have signs warning of road damage,” he said. “We’ve had some damaged vehicles been turned in for our insurance. It’s going to keep failing. It’s not constructed to standards. It’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse. If we keep chasing potholes we’re going to keep spending money and there’s going to be another pothole the next day.”

To tear up the road and properly lay a new one, Hurst estimated it would cost $1 million per mile. He said another project, on Mormon Trail Road and funded by a grant, is currently costing — a sum far out of the question for the county at this point. Although the body from which the county has been given grants for rural road projects in the past has allotted its grant funds through 2017, the county hopes its financial fortunes will change enough in the future to repave the road at some point, said Hurst.

Lybbert said he understands repaving the road is out of the question, but he is concerned that any hope to repave the road will never come to fruition.

“We understand there isn’t money to pave the entire road. We’re not asking for that,” he said. “We’re just pleading that they don’t rip it all out, because we know the chance of it all getting replaced in the future is near zero. It’s the concept of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They feel like the road is deteriorating. Well, every road is deteriorating. Their decisions are financially driven, and not driven by safety, which is very concerning to us.”

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