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Traffic moves fast in Moab, but finding a fix is slow going

Utah Highway 191, seen here on April 25, 2024, doubles as Moab’s Main Street. A concerned group of residents wants to see more done to make the road safer through town, but that is complicated because Moab does not own the road, the state does.
David Condos
/
KUER
Utah Highway 191, seen here on April 25, 2024, doubles as Moab’s Main Street. A concerned group of residents wants to see more done to make the road safer through town, but that is complicated because Moab does not own the road, the state does.

When it comes to severe traffic accidents, a recent citizen report found Moab has the most dangerous main street in Utah. Changing that is more complicated than it sounds.

That’s because Main Street in Moab is also State Highway 191, a major corridor for commerce moving through the southeast corner of the state. It’s also not under the control of the city, but rather the Utah Department of Transportation.

Former Moab City Councilor Karen Guzman-Newton and resident Kevin Dwyer compiled the report with help from the University of Utah’s Wasatch Transportation Academy. To Guzman-Newton, the danger comes from the road’s wide-open design, which “tricks the drivers into thinking, oh, this is a comfortable speed.”

“It doesn't matter what speed UDOT has said that they would like people to drive, people are going to drive what's comfortable,” she said. “What's comfortable in Moab is to go fast.”

According to the report, there have been 15 fatal accidents in the last decade along a 6-mile stretch of highway that runs through the city. Speed limits range from 30 to 55 miles per hour in that corridor.

Moab isn't the only Utah city grappling with excessive main street speeds. Heber City in Wasatch County is split by Highway 40 and Highway 189. The community has been negotiating with UDOT over a proposed bypass for years.

UDOT agrees that it will take more than just a lower speed limit to change things. Director of Traffic and Safety Robert Miles said if people think speeds are too high, “then we really need to have a conversation about what we could do about modifying the behavior of people on that roadway.”

“It doesn't do anyone any good to say the speed limit is 25 if everyone's driving 50 miles an hour.”

That’s a conversation report author Dwyer thinks the community would be willing to have.

“Maybe all people would be willing to accept a little bit more congestion for a decrease in the loss of life.”

Because the road is in UDOT’s jurisdiction, safety measures recommended by Guzman-Newton and Dwyer – like repainting crosswalks, lowering speed limits and redesigning the road – are more difficult to do.

“Things that we can't do are things that involve the street and their right of way,” said Mayor Joette Langianese. “That becomes a little bit more complicated. [UDOT] would have to do studies and things like that.”

Miles said traffic studies from UDOT can be done in a month or two, but smoothing out the details of what a future road might look like could take a lot longer. That’s because the other conversations that need to happen “can take some time and it'll lead to some differences of opinion and that all can take time to work out.”

At least right now that means the city’s options are limited.

“We volunteered to buy paint for UDOT [for the crosswalks],” said Dwyer. “They said you can't even buy us paint to do it.”

But there has been progress.

UDOT and city officials recently examined the road, Langianese said, and the agency will present the findings of a road safety audit to the city on July 23.

After that, the question will be how fast can any recommendations be implemented.

How do we advocate to the UDOT powers that be to make sure that this gets done in a timely manner so that we don't have to wait for somebody to get killed to make it happen,” asked Langianese.

“That seems to be the trigger point a lot of times and we certainly don't want that to happen.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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