Interstate 80: Unsafe at any speed?
January 24, 2007
If you are headed over Parleys Summit, buckle up and turn off the cell phone. Those missed calls will wait.
In the last four days, Interstate 80, between Park City and Salt Lake, has claimed two lives and critically injured two area residents.
Though potentially deadly, it is a stretch of road that many Summit County residents travel on a daily basis, for school or work. It is the unavoidable link to the airport, to a hospital, to take kids to the zoo or the planetarium and it is one of the country’s busiest arteries, a shipping lane for tractor-trailers carrying everything from veggies to nuclear waste.
In the wake of this week’s catastrophic accidents, and a rash of less serious incidents, Utah highway patrolmen have been cautioning motorists to slow down. But that is little comfort to the shattered families of the crash victims. In fact, the police say speed was probably not a factor in Sunday’s fatality.
Though the Utah Department of Transportation has installed some of the latest safety technology along the I 80 corridor, there is more work to be done. At night, in many places, the roadway is pitch black and the lane lines are so worn and salt covered they are barely visible.
Additional lighting and more frequent striping could help mitigate some of the problems. UDOT road crews also need to ensure that motorists are forewarned when slow-moving snow removal equipment is in their lane.
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On Parleys, drivers face the additional challenge of vying for position as the highway crests the summit and faster vehicles jockey to get out from behind slower ones. In that situation, when campers pulling boats mix with semis, motorcycles, and commuter rush hour, it can be a white-knuckle trip, even on dry pavement.
Unfortunately, many area residents travel the route so frequently they have forgotten how quickly a routine trip can turn into a tragedy.
It may be that none of the drivers involved in this week’s wrecks were at fault, it was just too many cars, a random patch of black ice, a moment’s lapse of attention. But the results are too devastating to ignore.
UDOT must investigate and do whatever is necessary to reduce the danger on that stretch of highway. Local commuters, too, must work to reduce the potential for more heartbreaking losses. That includes minimizing unnecessary distractions, like cell phones, and properly maintaining their vehicles.
No amount of scolding by well-meaning troopers will guarantee the safety of those traveling on local roadways, but increased driver awareness will certainly help.
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