The Uintah Basin is currently in the midst of an energy boom, and that brings with it all the logistical problems of transporting oil and natural gas on roadways. Traffic of oil tankers on area roads is expected to grow, and multiple entities are working together to make sure the demand is accommodated.
Utah Sen. Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal) spoke at a Utah Transportation Committee meeting in Heber City last Friday on transportation issues facing Wasatch and Summit Counties related to the increase in oil tankers on state roads as they truck crude oil to refineries in Salt Lake City.
"Sixty percent of the traffic that goes through [Heber's] Main Street is going from the Uintah Basin to Salt Lake City," Van Tassell said in a phone interview on Monday. "And 20 to 25 percent of that is truck traffic. In the next three years, we could more than likely see a 20 to 25 percent increase."
According to a study by the Utah Department of Transportation, the oil and gas industry accounts for nearly 50 percent of employment in the Uintah Basin, either directly or indirectly.
Van Tassell said that the most viable solution under consideration right now is the construction of a bypass route west around Heber's Main Street. Shawn Seager from the Mountainland Association of Governments, who has been working on this project, says the bypass would accommodate the twin issues of population growth and the energy industry boom.
"This bypass would be able to accommodate a 140 percent growth in population," Seager said.
Seager added that Heber's Main Street handles roughly 25,000 trips per day. If extrapolated out to the year 2040, U.S. 40 and Main Street are expected to be way over capacity. The bypass, he says, would divert 20,000 trips from Main Street by 2040, allowing Main Street to have the same number of trips per day (25,000) in 2040 as it does now.
Van Tassell says that, depending on markets, oil tanker traffic could double in the next five to seven years. This would create the necessity for finding other ways to transport oil.
"We could build a pipeline that could help take some of this expected growth off. There is the desire to increase and expand production," Van Tassell said.
Van Tassell said that another issue outside of the Heber area is on Interstate 80, which he says could use an additional lane on the westbound side from Park City to Parley's Canyon. U.S. 40 he says has "quite a bit of capacity left" but Summit County Manager Bob Jasper stated before that U.S. 40 is "already cramped" and that there is talk among some parties to have a road go through Park City and down Marsac Ave. Jasper did not say he was in favor of that idea, and does not want a battle over a "full-blown road."
In relation to the Heber bypass, Wasatch County Planning Director Doug Smith said a vehicle registration fee has already been enacted to purchase the land within the bypass corridor. The property in the corridor has been purchased as well, and Smith said the county is looking to UDOT to build that road in the future.
The bypass itself would be what Seager says is a "limited access facility" in that it would not be accompanied by commercial or retail development. The access points to the bypass would be at 600 N., Midway Lane and U.S. 189.
Starting off with one lane in each direction, the bypass will "phase or grow" into its facility to eventually have two lanes in each direction, Seager said. He adds that travel demand models can be utilized to simulate traffic in the future, allowing demand to be accommodated. There are other issues to tackle, Seager says.
"How do we develop overpasses or an easy way for traffic to use the west bypass?" Seager said.
The dilemma of routing traffic around Heber was something that Wasatch and Summit Counties, as well as the state, were in agreement on.
"It's a matter of time before [Heber's] Main Street reaches failure. We need some traffic calming on it," Smith said. "The idea would be that Main Street would be a real Main Street."