Guest Editorial: Interstate 80 project is an accident waiting to happen
The consequences of this ill-conceived plan were painfully apparent within the first week of the closure when hundreds, if not thousands of I-80 travelers were completely stopped at least twice by routine incidents, like an overheated vehicle.
Consider that for a full eight miles, any accident, stalled vehicle, flat tire or blown radiator results in a total stoppage of a major national highway. UDOT has not addressed this glaring problem with even the simplest of remedies, like having a tow truck on site and ready to pull disabled vehicles out of the single lane in a timely manner.
The complete road stoppage on the afternoon of Sunday, June 22, was reportedly due to a big pick-up towing an even bigger camper trailer. It apparently did not make a curve within the tight single lane and jack-knifed to a halt. Luckily, conditions were dry and bright. Had it been at night, wet or snowy, the 18-wheeler that was following my wife’s car when she had to suddenly halt may not have been able to stop in time and would have had no place to steer away from a rear end collision. As it was, the tractor trailer came to a stop just 15 feet behind her.
In the next few days, when UDOT reduces I-80 to a single lane in each direction for five months, fully loaded big rigs driving eastbound will be heading downhill in traffic for miles without a shoulder lane for safety. The posted 45 mph limit is likely intended to help avoid sudden stop collisions, and makes sense for a few hundred feet of roadwork. But this is a several miles-long stretch of a primary trucking Interstate suddenly squeezed into a single, winding canyon lane.
The Tollgate/Promontory exit 150 is roughly in the middle of the construction zone and is the only way out for over 800 residents of Tollgate Canyon, a population greater than Wanship proper. In addition to the many families residing here, hundreds of kids attending church camps in Tollgate will also be exposed to this road hazard for two years.
Despite protests from residents of the Tollgate Canyon area who have no way around this mess, UDOT has thus far only offered polite lip service on the telephone and has not addressed any of our safety concerns.
UDOT did not seek advance planning input from residents who are directly affected by this long-term project and they have not explained why the full eight miles of highway must be affected for the entire length of this two-year project.
Since exit 150 is roughly at the mid-point of the reconstruction project zone, why isn’t the project work being split into two section lengths on each side of the exit at a time, such as from Route 40 to exit 150 and then exit 150 east to Wanship to minimize the safety and financial impacts of a daily eight-mile detour? If it’s for budgetary reasons, what’s more valuable than public safety?
While we appreciate the challenges of reconstructing a roadway in a narrow canyon, we ask UDOT, Summit County and state to fulfill their responsibilities to take every measure possible to prevent tragic accidents before they happen and to maximize highway safety, including detouring national truck traffic through I-84 for the duration of this reconstruction project.