Concerning the May 31 issue opinion piece submitted by Ms. Susie Harrington. At this point the problem of where to channel the ever increasing volume of traffic moving through the Moab Valley on State Route 191 will only have brutal, expensive and painful solutions. It’s important to understand that there are very limited routes for vehicles traveling from the south and southeastern part of the country to the northwestern states. Travelers must decide to go north off Interstates 10, 20 or 40 before or after passing west through the Rocky Mountains. If you don’t have one in your head, look at a map. Traveling to the northwest from the south/southeast on I-40, Oklahoma City is the last chance to take a four-lane route north. Going north there means Denver and the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 or on up to I-80. Alternately it’s Albuquerque and State Route 191 north to Highway 6 or I-15 north. Now add winter weather to your route calculations.
State Route 191 winds through the relatively flat country between the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado River canyon country. Humans found this softer way through very hard country a long time ago. When the corn culture people came up from Oaxaca over generations of wandering they eventually came here channeled by geography. When the good Christian Spanish explorers came north from Mexico looking for gold and slaves, the locals brought them through this valley to the river crossing where our beautiful four-lane Utah Department of Transportation bridge now arches over the water. Simply put, this is “The Way” through very imposing geographic barriers. Unless you can actually move mountains, that is not changing.
The April 23, 1993 Utah Transportation Commission meeting minutes record then-State Rep. Keele Johnson stating that, “If you look at the U.S. Interstate System there is a glaring gap in a connection between the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Coast. That gap starts at Spanish Fork, Utah and ends around Gallup, NM.” He said as a legislator one of his priorities, and also one of then-Senator Dmitrich’s, is to start the federal government working toward that. “If President Clinton wants to put money into the infrastructure, that would be a good project.” Later in the same meeting Moab Mayor Tom Stocks, Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland, and Grand County Emergency Services Director Cliff Aldridge made a joint presentation. “Mayor Stocks presented a handout to the commission indicating a possible Moab bypass route. He said he talked to several people about a bypass a number of years ago. He referred to the tanker which caught fire and necessitated that traffic be detoured up over the mountain and out by Cisco for a time. They are getting to the point where if products of a hazardous nature are going to be moved through Moab they need an alternate route. He said UDOT could probably come up with better ideas than the one they had indicated on the map, which started at the truck stop on the south end of town and ended at the south side of Arches.”
At the same meeting, “Chairman [Sam] Taylor commented the way things have gone in that area in terms of visitation, he didn’t think there was much question that ultimately they are going to have to be served by the same kind of highway network UDOT is now developing for Park City.” Today, 24 years later, Park City has a highway network. Moab does not. Why?
In 2000 UDOT surveyed for a bypass route as part of a study of plans for regional upgrades and modifications of the transportation corridor through the Moab Valley. The proposed route: A new bridge at the west portal off Potash Road running behind Mountain View subdivision and up the utility corridor to the south of town. Naturally a passionate cry for “No-Bypass” came from the Moab citizens who believed they would be adversely affected by these changes including gas stations and other Main Street business owners and Mountain View subdivision homeowners. Some cried that Moab would go the way of Green River if there were a bypass.
Ms. Harrington, whose home is on Kane Springs Road directly adjacent to the proposed route, was very involved at that time, as she is now, in fighting any bypass. Meanwhile the rest of us slept on unconcerned. For our troubles we got a cement paved Main Street and a new bridge in the wrong place. What is beyond understanding is why UDOT listened to these limited arguments when the record clearly states that the issue of interstate commercial/private traffic and growing tourist travel through the area indicated the absolute need for a four-lane bypass in the early ‘90s.
Ms. Harrington seems to offer the solution of banding together and outlawing tourism so we can have a nice quiet town like our friends in Monticello. Fantasy is the problem, not the solution. Moab is not Shangri-la. Moab Main Street versus Moab Highway 191 will not find an elegant, inexpensive or “win/win” resolution. A real problem, long deferred, still awaits.
Thanks for your work.