Road work underway, projects in planning
Spring brings warmer conditions, along with road projects as well as plans for future projects. Work is underway on SR-211, the highway that connects US 191 to Indian Creek, the Dugout Ranch and Canyonlands National Park.
The project will smooth out rough spots and fix rough edges on the road, in addition to adding a new asphalt overlay and replacing some cattle guards. The project starts at the Hwy 191 turnoff and continues 18 miles, past Newspaper Rock and all the way to the Dugout reservoir. The anticipated completion date is in August.
Another project is along Highway 191 between White Mesa and Shirt Tail corner. This project will smooth out rough spots in the road and add a new asphalt overlay along a six-mile stretch, with completion estimated in June.
Several projects are also planned on state highways in the Navajo Nation portion of San Juan County and no project is more visible than the Forrest Gump hill on Highway 163.
The location where the title character in Forrest Gump (1994) ends his cross-country run is located right in the middle of busy state highway 163.
The incredible view from the memorable film has spawned tourists pulling over and entering the highway to take pictures on the road, with social media spreading the popularity of picture.
In an interview with Red Rock Radio 92.7 FM, UDOT Region Four Communication Manager Kevin Kitchen explained the challenges.
“One of the issues is that it’s a high-speed highway. When people get out in that roadway, they don’t realize how quickly cars move.”
Kitchen said another issue is the vertical curve of the hill itself.
“What we’ve seen is as people approach Monument Valley, they come up over that hill and then the problem is they have this quick downhill. But they don’t see the people in the road until they’ve approached the crest of the hill and then sometimes it’s too late to respond to what may be in the roadway.”
UDOT has taken a phased approach, attempting to improve safety without ruining the views and aesthetics with signage.
“Most recently we installed new signing, and we have a zone there where the speed is actually reduced,” said Kitchen. “But those signs – in relation to that big scenery – makes them seem even smaller and they’re hard to recognize. We may be stepping up visibility with that.”
Another immediate solution UDOT has worked on is to move the place where people take photos further down the hill. This may give vehicles cresting the hill more time to respond. They are also working closely with the Utah Highway Patrol.
Kitchen says UDOT has even considered redirecting the highway around the scene or re-creating the view off the current highway.
“We realize people are probably going to go out there and they’re going to do it no matter what we do,” said Kitchen. “So short of marring everything with some type of aesthetic that people do not want, we’ll work up to that until we can hopefully find some type of solution.”
At their most recent meeting, the Navajo Utah Commission received a report from UDOT Region Four Deputy Director Monte Aldridge on projects on the Navajo Nation. Among items discussed is fencing along highways and a big project for Highway 162.
Fencing currently does not exist along Highway 163 from mile post 13 to 21. The elected officials pointed out that fencing along Highway 191 from the San Juan River to the Arizona border is in need of maintenance.
Aldridge said that according to state policy, UDOT can and will build right of way fences, but is not allowed to maintain it. That falls to the permittee.
Although UDOT does not maintain fences, Aldridge said they have entered into agreements in the past to provide materials. Additionally, he said that UDOT will maintain the right of way and should remove dirt or sand that has built up along the interior of fence lines on Highway 191, as was reported by chapter officials.
Agreements still need to be made in order for UDOT to install along an eight mile fencing gap on Highway 163, but it was pointed out that the agreement along Highway 162 has worked successfully.
Aldridge also highlighted a big upcoming reconstruction plan for highways 162 and 262.
UDOT is receiving a $47.9 million federal grant and contributing an additional $25 million, for a total of $73 million for the project.
The project includes SR 162 from Bluff to Colorado and SR 262 from Montezuma Creek to Highway 191.
Items in the project include realignment of roadway curvature, new retaining walls, guardrail replacement, improved pavement, rumble strips, shoulder widening and a roundabout in Montezuma Creek at the intersection of SR 262 and 162.
The 55-mile project will likely take two to three years to complete.
Additionally, plans for a road to connect Oljato and Navajo Mountain were discussed at the meeting. Aldridge explained that UDOT doesn’t believe the proposed roadway falls under statutory requirements for a state highway in Utah.
Aldridge said they encourage conversations to seek Federal Congressional earmarking to create the road and that UDOT would welcome participation in ongoing conversations.
Conversation about the proposed road will take place on Thursday, April 29 in Navajo Mountain with county, tribal and state leaders all anticipated to be at the meeting.
Coverage of the meeting will appear in the next edition of the San Juan Record. Additional coverage about road projects in Spanish Valley is found in the County Commission story.