Monday, November 30, 2009

Highway in Utah is both an example of the dangers of rural roads and the difficulties in fixing them

In October we reported that the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration had released data revealing almost 60 percent of U.S. traffic fatalities in 2008 occurred on rural roads. Now Howard Berkes of National Public Radio has provided an excellent example of applying that nationwide data in a local context. Berkes focuses on the 120-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 6 between Spanish Fork and Green River in Utah, one of the deadliest roads in America.

"Since 1996, more than 150 people have died in more than 500 serious accidents on that central Utah portion of the road," Berkes reports. The road serves as the link between much of the state and the medical specialists, government offices, shopping, colleges and families along Utah's populous Wasatch Front, which includes Salt Lake City. The road also attracts heavy truck traffic because it is part of the shortest route between Salt Lake City and Denver, and tourists use the road to travel to the national parks and scenic rivers of southeast Utah. (NPR map by Berkes and Nelson Hsu)

Despite vocal community organizing to improve safety on U.S. 6, Utah funds were diverted to northern roads in advance of the 2002 Winter Olympics and the road often ranked as priority No. 2 on many lawmakers' lists, Berkes reports. Utah recently began a series of ambitious and costly projects to improve the road's safety, but the projects' difficulties offer examples of the challenge in improving rural roads. Many rural roads bring environmental concerns about preservation of natural landscapes, Berkes reports, and many dangerous segments parallel natural and man-made features that limit engineering options. (Read more)

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