Snowstorm forced rare closure of U.S. 40
As the snow continuously fell on the Wasatch Back Monday night, Utah Highway Patrol troopers made the difficult decision to close a portion of westbound U.S. 40 outside of Heber City for nearly an hour to allow plow trucks to clear the road.
After a dozen cars and trucks were unable to make it up the hill just past the River Road and State Road 32 intersection on U.S. 40 toward Park City, Lt. Randall Richey, with the Utah Highway Patrol, made the call, along with the Utah Department of Transportation, to close the highway.
"I called the (UDOT) foreman and said, ‘would you rather have the cars continue to run over the salt and spread it around or are your plows able to get through?’ He said, ‘our plows are having trouble getting through because of stuck cars’ so both of us made that decision together," Richey said.
For about 45 minutes at around 7 p.m., patrol cars were positioned across the westbound lanes to prevent vehicles from traveling through as UDOT plow trucks worked to clear the road. The two spots that are typically susceptible to weather conditions are near mile marker 11 and mile marker 13 along U.S. 40, Richey said.
Most drivers waited for the plows to clear the road, while others took S.R. 32 through Francis to loop back around toward U.S. 40. Richey said the only alternative was for drivers to go through Provo Canyon, however, troopers weren’t suggesting people take that route.
"We weren’t guiding people that way because we only anticipated it for a brief amount of time so most of the traffic just waited," Richey said.
Richey said westbound traffic was backed up "a pretty fair amount," but not all the way to Heber City proper.
"UDOT activated the message board before that intersection to advise people it was closed and we didn’t actually have a ton of traffic going that direction. We had more traffic coming from the other way," Richey said.
The Utah Highway Patrol has not closed that portion of the highway for several years, Richey said. However, Richey does remember a year where it was closed a handful of times.
"UDOT likes to keep traffic flowing and with salt on the roads they kind of rely on the cars to drive through in order to spread it out," he said. "But in certain situations, if they don’t think that their trucks will be able to get through the traffic we’ll agree it’s better to close it.
"Basically the UHP supervisor that is on duty at the time will contact the UDOT foreman for that area to figure out the best way to handle it," Richey said. "If it’s an emergency and there are cars sliding all over the places we will just shut it down ourselves."
With at least a foot of snow falling on the area earlier this week, law enforcement officers responded to multiple accidents and fender benders. None of the accidents have caused serious injuries, Richey said.
"Generally the speeds are slower so we get a larger volume, but they are less serious," Richey said.
Richey stressed slowing down on snow-covered roads and having winter tires is the best defense during winter travel.
"A lot of people will have decent tires on their car for dry or wet pavement, but they are not good enough to be going up and down these hills in a snow storm," Richey said. "Semi-decent tires aren’t good enough. We had a situation Monday night where an all-wheel drive vehicle wasn’t able to make it up that hill (on U.S. 40). All wheels were spinning, but weren’t going anywhere because the tires weren’t good enough.
"They make a huge difference and I know that they are expensive, but if people can plan that out in their budget for the key winter months it will help tremendously with the crashes and traffic."
To view updated road conditions and access real-time travel cameras, go to http://udottraffic.utah.gov/ .
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Some parts of the project might be pushed until next spring, like paving the trails.