By Cimarron Chacon
Back in June I had an opportunity as a Candidate for the Utah Legislature to bring local cyclists and UDOT together to discuss rumble strips that were installed on Hwy 18 in St. George and had created unsafe cycling conditions. As a result of this crisis, a new cycling advocacy organization was formed and named the Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance (SUBA). In addition, a subcommittee of SUBA was appointed to continue to work with UDOT on the rumble strip issue. The sub-committee met on site with UDOT in late June and was tasked with doing a thorough investigation of the 1.7 miles hazards area, and to conduct an economic analysis of the road to demonstrate how valuable that section of the road is to county tourism and to bring in the race directors of Ironman, the Senior Games, Tour de St. George, and the Washington County Office of Recreation and Tourism to help plead the case for road improvements.
I conducted the economic analysis using Department of Interior data analyzed by IMPLAN software to look at cycling events that have used SR 18 for events between 2009 and 2011. The study did not look at running events, nor did it consider events that merely passed through SR 18, but where not based in St. George. The study also did not consider travel for training, recreation, or guided tours. The results of the study showed there were two cycling events operating in 2009 that contributed about $1.5 million to the Washington County economy. Today there are over 7 events operating on SR. 18 contributing over $5 million to the local economy. Other estimates have put the contribution from the Ironman alone at that number or higher when travel for training was factored into the equation.
When the economic impact from cycling was examined along with the serious safety concerns, the result was a huge WIN for cyclists. At a meeting between the sub-committee and UDOT held on August 9, 2012, it was learned that UDOT had optioned $1.6 million in federal enhancement funds for 4 miles of roadway improvements from the Ledges to Diamond Valley that would include up to 8 feet of dedicated shoulder for cycling and running. This was a welcome surprise from the 2 feet for 1.7-mile patch the cycling group had asked for during the previous meeting. It was decided that SUBA would stay involved during the design process, with the final construction scheduled for just after the cycling season – sometime in early May 2013.
Dana Meier UDOT said funding was approved by the Transportation Commission on August 10, 2012. Branden Anderson has been assigned as the project manager and he will be putting out the advertisement to select a design consultant. “It may be a very aggressive schedule but the intent is to have this project advertised for construction by the end of this year.” Funds were awarded in part due to a cooperative agreement between the City of St. George and Washington County who both agreed to keep the route regularly swept to improve safety and enjoyment for cyclists.
Robert Dowell of UDOT has stated that as a result of SR 18 and what the agency has learned about road cycling and rumble strip safety they have modified other future projects that are slated for construction this fall and winter. State Route 18 improvement from Snow Canyon Parkway to the Ledges will now include a wider shoulder where ROW permits and UDOT has been coordinating with Thomas Dansie, SUBA board member and Springdale planner, to assure that rumble strips are not installed in road segments that are narrow or have poor sightlines, such as the Twist. Mr. Dowell and SUBA encourage the public to be watchdogs during the construction and report any safety concerns.
SUBA Board of Directors was formed in late July and includes Craig Shanklin, Ryan Gurr, Kai Reed, Lucy Ormond, Denise Purdue, Tom Dansie and John Reed. This group has hit the ground sprinting and Kai Reed said they are already planning the first annual cycling summit designed to bring together planners, developers, event promoters, health enthusiasts, elected officials and cyclists to discuss the state of cycling in Southern Utah. It will offer a unique opportunity for all groups to communicate with one another and to help create a better cycling future.
Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012
Southern Utah Bike Summit
1:00 to 4:30pm
St. George Library
88 West 100 South
5:00 to 7:00pm
Dixie Regional Health & Performance Center
652 S. Medical Center Drive