To meet the challenges of increased visitation at Arches National Park, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has installed a traffic signal system at the intersection of U.S. 191 and the park’s entrance. National Park Service (NPS) officials said they welcome the new traffic light and believe it will greatly reduce the potential for serious crashes on U.S. 191 near the park’s entrance road.
“We are grateful to the Utah Department of Transportation for installing the signal,” said Kate Cannon, superintendent of the Southeast Utah Group of the NPS. “It is a welcome additional safety measure.”
Last May, a 15-year old girl died from injuries sustained in a two-vehicle crash on U.S. 191 near the entrance to Arches. Hannah Greening, 15, of San Angelo, Texas, died May 14 after the southbound vehicle in which she was a passenger struck another vehicle that was attempting to turn left onto the highway after exiting the park.
Kevin Kitchen, communications manager for UDOT Region 4, said the most serious crashes occur in that exact situation — at intersections when vehicles are crossing at 90 degrees.
“The new signal will provide a signal-protected movement for motorists entering and exiting the park road crossing the higher speed highway, providing the gap needed so motorists don’t misjudge the time needed to make left turns,” Kitchen said.
The signal will stop northbound through-traffic on the highway when vehicles are entering the park from the southbound lane of U.S. 191 or exiting the park and turning left into a merge lane on the highway, but does not affect southbound through-traffic heading into town, Kitchen said.
According to UDOT, workers will also construct a raised median near the park’s entrance to prohibit “unsafe movements” between the north and southbound travel lanes, as well as better striping for turning and merging.
The result of ongoing conversations between UDOT and NPS officials, Kitchen said that the new traffic signal system will help meet the demands of increased visitation at Arches National Park.
“This was not part of a long-term plan but rather an area of focus as operational aspects associated with increased park visitation have become more and more evident,” Kitchen said. “UDOT has been working with Arches National Park for a few years to understand the challenges, volume and peak times of tourist traffic at the entrance that may affect the safety and operation of the highway.”
Cannon said that managing increased visitation continues to be the “biggest challenge” facing the parks of the Southeast Utah Group.
Five years ago, Arches National Park typically received 1 million visitors. With steady increases over the last few years, the park recorded 1.5 million visitors in 2016. Similar increases have been reported for Canyonlands National Park and Hovenweep, and Natural Bridges national monuments.
To address the heavy visitation at Arches, including the strain on the park’s infrastructure, Cannon said the 2017 season will be marked by a road construction project inside the park.
“The project is proposed for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but may conclude in 2017 if work proceeds more quickly,” Cannon said.
Roadwork in the park will be completed in phases, Cannon said, beginning in early March with work on an inbound lane from U.S. 191 to the entrance booths, as well as construction of a roundabout at the entrance to the visitor center.
Cannon said phase two includes “resurfacing, restoring and rehabilitating” the 26 miles of roads and pullouts within the park.
As part of that construction, the park’s Devils Garden Campground will be closed from March 1 to Oct. 31.
“Much of the work is expected to be completed at night to minimize impacts to visitor daytime travel and access, but some areas may require full road and area closures, such as at Devils Garden Campground, Delicate Arch road and the Windows road,” Cannon said, adding that closures may last up to two weeks for each area.
As the infrastructure needs of Arches change, so, too, do the infrastructure needs across Grand County. Kitchen said UDOT is keeping busy in the local area to “the degree that funding and prudence dictates.”
“The area is experiencing an element of urbanization as well as increased tourism, and the highway itself is a key corridor of multi-state regional transportation and freight movement,” Kitchen said. “Multi-modal transportation and long-term infrastructure is a regular discussion between UDOT, local governments and federal agencies.”
UDOT will soon install pedestrian activation poles on five intersections crossing Moab’s Main Street — state Route 128, 100 North, Center Street, 100 South and 300 South.
“This came from listening to the concerns of the city regarding pedestrian safety, and visibility of existing pedestrian crossing buttons, particularly for those not familiar with the town,” Kitchen said, adding that all pedestrian poles will be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.
Kitchen said he considers the relationship between UDOT and Grand County’s various jurisdictions to be a healthy one, adding that it takes real “critical thinking” to address the many transportation needs facing the area.
“The community ... works diligently to account for the ebb and flow of international tourism, business needs, community atmosphere, and the lure of state and national parks,” he said.