Randy Sant was selected as the Tooele Transcript Bulletin’s 2015 Person of the Year for his contributions to economic development in Tooele County and is a worthy selection.
I feel like I’d be remiss without mentioning one of the runners-up for the award, however. It’s a bit of an unconventional choice, but one that certainly had a dramatic impact on life in Tooele City during 2015: the orange construction barrel.
It wouldn’t have been the first time a significant publication selected an object in place of its person of the year — Time Magazine selected the computer in 1992. So there is something of a precedent for this type of selection.
If you follow the Time Magazine model — selecting the person(s) who most affected news in a year, for better or worse — it only strengthens the case for the omnipresent orange barrels. Looking out the windows of the Transcript Bulletin today, there is still a sea of orange, restricting traffic and snarling the commute for motorists.
The road construction season began on March 16 with a $1.8 million project by Tooele City to replace water mains under Main Street. The Utah Department of Transportation’s SR-36 Renewed project began in June, leaving a non-stop labyrinth of barrels, construction equipment and road closures through the end of the year.
Even people in Grantsville, Stansbury Park and other communities in the county were affected by the road construction. A simple trip to a Main Street business became an exercise in classic Western exploration, with bold adventurers navigating an unknown and threatening landscape.
Newsroom anecdotes of the road construction abounded, with observations of other drivers traveling on the wrong side of the barrels, driving into construction pits or attempting to leave a parking lot where no exit existed anymore. Business reporter Tim Gillie lost a side mirror to the barrels while traveling the tight confines the roadwork created.
Sports editor Tavin Stucki even developed a game around the road construction during the slow sports news days of July. Drivers who knocked an orange barrel into traffic receive six points; if it’s hit into a new shape it’s only worth two points.
Dodging the fallen barrels was worth four points but an unsuccessful attempt would penalize the driver two points.
As a commuter to work, I would go away for the weekend and return to a completely new layout of barrels to learn, hindered by occasionally substandard signage and substandard drivers. My knowledge of side streets in the city grew by leaps and bounds, however.
On a serious note, local businesses of all kinds suffered decreases in sales as a result of limited access. Some days a business would have customers entering their parking lot with little restrictions, other days they were cut off.
We shouldn’t forget, however, that the barrels were victims in all of this too. Those bold bastions of roadway demarcation were clipped by cars, dumped unceremoniously into construction canyons and generally abused during work on the $25.5 million project.
After a brief drawdown in their numbers in December, the orange barrels have returned with a vengeance. With more road construction on the way for the SR-36 project — and Grantsville eyeing a redo of their Main Street in 2019 — the orange barrel will likely remain a constant part of life for Tooele County residents for the foreseeable future.
In a year defined by events that didn’t happen — the new state prison didn’t end up in Tooele County and Miller Motorsports Park wasn’t sold (yet) — the road construction in Tooele certainly did happen. It was an everyday nuisance for city residents and at least an occasional headache for anyone else that ventured into the quagmire.
Through it all, the construction barrel stood as a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A fluorescent orange knight.