Late last Saturday afternoon, it happened again. Although it was sunny and clear, the road was dry, and traffic flow wasn’t choked with hurried weekday commuters, two vehicles crashed violently in front of the Lake Point Chevron on SR-36. This time, it was a tour bus carrying 32 passengers, and an SUV with four occupants. Thankfully, everyone walked away with only bumps and bruises. But it could have been worse. A lot worse.
According to the Utah Highway Patrol, the tour bus was attempting to make a left turn out of Chevron onto northbound SR-36. The SUV was in the outer southbound lane when it struck the left rear panel of the bus. The impact tore the left and back panel off, sending metal and debris flying down the road. The SUV’s front end collapsed, and the hood was peeled back like a can of sardines. Yet, the vehicle’s safety belts and air bags evidently made all the difference — a miraculous difference — for the people inside.
Regrettably, as we all have come to know with accidents at Lake Point, it doesn’t always go that way. We only have to think back seven weeks to the crash on Nov. 27 that claimed the lives of two Salt Lake women — a mother and her daughter — a few feet away from the same place as Saturday’s collision. Or remember that in recent years there have been additional fatalities, others who have suffered serious injuries, and countless fender-benders and pileups. Over the last five years, a reported 140 accidents have occurred on SR-36 in Lake Point. That averages out to an accident every 13 days.
Which is why last Thursday’s announcement that the state plans to install additional traffic safety measures in and near Lake Point is enthusiastically welcomed. The Utah Department of Transportation intends to erect speed feedback signs this spring that will automatically tell motorists of their velocity — and whether or not they’re ignoring the posted speed limit. Additional improvements to SR-36 will possibly include lighting and raised concrete medians.
Such traffic safety improvements are a good start and may reduce the number of vehicle accidents in Lake Point. But their short and long-term effectiveness falls into doubt if UDOT is reluctant to do one thing, which may be the least costly remedial step of all: reduce the speed limit through the area from the posted 55 mph.
Because of the numerous business entrances between Saddleback Boulevard and Hardy Road, the center left turn lane, and the chaotic mix of hasty and impatient commuters, slow-moving semi trucks, and other I-80 motorists, it just makes sense to drop the speed limit. By how much? SR-36 is a state highway, but the two-tenths of a mile between Saddleback Boulevard and Hardy Road is arguably Lake Point’s business district, even its de facto Main Street.
Additionally, Lake Point is the eastern gateway to Tooele County. It’s our “Welcome” sign to millions of travelers on I-80 every year. With those points in mind, the speed limit should be reduced to a level that allows the majority of motorists to more safely and efficiently drive through — or turn left into a Lake Point business without unnecessarily risking life and limb.