By Cimarron Chacon
This May the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) conducted a routine preservation and safety enhancement project on State Route 18 in Washington County. These types of projects are done all over the state to preserve the road surface and improve vehicle safety. The 10 mile project covers the section of the roadway just north of Winchester Hills near Snow Canyon State Park to just north of Veyo. The work included chip sealing the road surface and installing rumble strips on each shoulder and in the center strip. For most rural roadways in Utah no one would have thought twice about the project; but this is no ordinary roadway, it is part of the famous Gunlock Loop and is used for major cycling and running events fall and spring including the Iron Man, St George Marathon and Huntsman Senior Games.
A group of avid cyclist, known locally as “the geezers” quickly put out alert email and a call to action. I got wind of the situation from a friend that knows my background in mountain bicycling advocacy and my candidacy for a seat in the Utah Legislature. Working together the group conducted a quick survey of the project which included pictures of the worst areas, and a description of conditions when cycling. Three areas of concern where identified: 1. There was a 1.7 mile section of road where the shoulder was already narrow and now the rumble strip had taken that space; 2. The chip seal applied was very rough; and 3. The slurry coat applied over the chip seal was over-sprayed giving a false shoulder of soft material. With this knowledge several advocates, including myself, began making phone calls to local officials.
I got involved and directly contacted UDOT. Washington County is part of Division 4 and my contacts were Evelyn Tuddenham, Utah State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator and Robert Dowell, Region Operations Engineer. Both were very concerned with the situation and responded quickly.
As a result of the call to action a group of cycling leaders from Washington County met and a subcommittee was formed to continue to work with UDOT on the issue. I joined that sub-committee. Another group met to form the new Washington County Cycling Advisory Council, southern Utah’s first cycling organization dedicated to advocacy and government policies.
The UDOT subcommittee met with a local UDOT representative the first week in June and together an action plan was devised. We learned that once rumble strips are installed they cannot be undone. Three possible solutions where discussed:
1. Signage to alert drivers and motorists of the hazard
2. Removal of the over-spray false shoulder
3. Widen of the shoulder in the 1.7 mile stretch that is the most hazardous.
In addition each group left with further tasks. UDOT would conduct an internal investigation of the project to assure that all standards and guidelines were followed during construction, investigate methods that could be used to widen the shoulder, and find a standard sign that could communicate the situation.
The sub-committee was tasked with also doing a thorough investigation of the 1.7 miles with shoulder measurements to better narrow down exactly where the worst hazards are, and to conduct an economic analysis of the road to demonstrate how valuable that section of the road is to county tourism. Once these studies are complete the WCCAC hopes to meet with UDOT again to find funding for the signs and a shoulder widening project.