No plans for bypass

UDOT: Tunneling cost prohibitive and environmentally problematic

Pedestrians cross Main Street at the intersection with 100 South while cars and tractor trailers remain stopped at the light.
Photo by Carter Pape

More than two decades after the idea was first pitched, and after multiple studies to investigate how it might look and be built, no funding has been allocated or plans made to construct a Main Street bypass around Moab.

“There is no project on the Long Range Plan (10-30 years), no project on the State Transportation Improvement Plan (5 years), no funding allocated, and no formal plan from local governments,” said Kevin Kitchen, communications manager for the Utah Department of Transportation’s southeast region. “This could take years.”

According to UDOT, the idea of a bypass – one that would reroute traffic off of Main Street by forming a new connection to Highway 191 – was presented to the Utah Transportation Commission in public comment as early as 1993.

The idea eventually gained traction at the state level because it offered to cut down travel times for truckers, travelers and others passing through Moab. Rather than stopping at up to 10 traffic lights between the Colorado River and Spanish Valley, drivers would face minimal travel interruptions by avoiding Main Street altogether.

The idea has also gained some traction at the local level, with some residents hoping to get tractor trailers and other large freight out of the downtown corridor. Locals living in subdivisions through which bypass concepts were proposed to go, in particular, the Mountain View subdivision, were not as excited about the idea.

UDOT said local officials requested a recent study into bypass concepts that was discussed last year, but the plan has since stalled, as the city and county have not integrated the study’s proposals into their long-term planning documents.

The idea of an aboveground bypass has upset some locals worried about displacing homes and obstructing views of the sandstone rim around Moab, leading to pitches for an underground bypass.

“Ideas are great,” Kitchen said of the underground bypass idea.  ”That’s where we start. Implementation of ideas must account for a broad range of realities.  Most tunneling infrastructure has been cost prohibitive or environmentally and technically problematic in the majority of applications.  It is a popular concept among visionaries with few willing to pay the price.”

Whatever form a bypass might take, little energy currently exists to build it. UDOT responds to local buy-in with such projects, and lacking that, it’s “not likely” to build it anytime soon, according to Kitchen.

“UDOT has routinely aided and partnered with local governments in their attempts to study and plan for their transportation future no matter what the form, with conceptual studies in diverse areas ranging from capacity and traffic analysis to drainage, transit and active transportation, Kitchen said. ”There is plenty for local community members to talk about.”