LOGAN With gasoline prices nearing $4 a gallon, the last thing commuters need is a longer drive.
But that's what thousands are going to get June 2 when the Utah Department of Transportation closes 11 miles of state Route 30.
As part of a $1 million project to add passing lanes, improve shoulders and build a park and ride lot, UDOT will close the road, also known as Valley View Highway, between the Mendon-Newton turnoff in Cache County and the Collinston-Deweyville turnoff in Box Elder County for eight weeks.
The mostly two-lane highway, which stretches from Logan west to I-15, carries an average of 6,500 automobiles a day, including Cache Valley commuters driving to ATK Launch Systems, Autoliv North America, Nucor Steel and other Box Elder County businesses.
Nucor estimates more than a third of the 375 employees at the company's Plymouth facility drive from Cache County. If they follow UDOT's recommendation and detour to U.S. Highway 89-91 through Wellsville Canyon to Brigham City, the drive will take about an hour each way instead of about a half hour, Nucor Controller Curtis Broadbent said.
"They are not going to pay the extra gas and time to go to Brigham," Broadbent said. "Our people don't like it. They would have preferred to keep the road open."
But a UDOT official said keeping the road open during construction would create bigger problems. Rick Nelson said the project would take nine or 10 months and UDOT would have to reduce traffic to one lane, which would cause long waits.
"If we shut it down for 45 to 90 minutes that pretty much shuts the road down itself," Nelson said.
Many Nucor employees are considering taking one of three partially paved roads instead, Broadbent said. Although Short Divide, Long Divide and Dairy roads have gravel sections, Broadbent said most cars can use them.
"They're passable," he said, "but you may get a popped windshield."
Most commuters won't be as inconvenienced as Nucor workers, however. ATK Launch Systems, formerly known as Thiokol, is in Promontory, which is closer to Brigham City. Of the 3,500 workers at the rocket factory, about 600 live in Cache County, spokeswoman Trina Patterson said.
She said some of them already drive through Wellsville Canyon, depending on where they live.
Jon Grussendorf, an ATK project engineer who lives in North Logan, figures the detour through Wellsville Canyon, which is often called Sardine Canyon, will add 15 to 20 minutes to the 45-minute trip. Grussendorf and 11 co-workers lease a van through the Utah Transit Authority's Vanpool program.
"They're kind of resigned to the fact that that's the way it is," he said. "We're just going to bite the bullet and go through Sardine."
UDOT officials said population growth in Cache and Box Elder counties has significantly increased traffic on Valley View Highway and created unsafe conditions, especially near the county line, where cars often risk passing trucks on hills.
Virtually everyone agrees the advantages of the improved highway will outweigh the hassles of construction.
Autoliv spokeswoman Kathy Whitehead said UDOT gave employees at the company's Tremonton facility, which makes components for air bags and seat belts, ample time to make arrangements for the detour. About 60 of the approximately 350 employees commute from Cache County, and Whitehead said they'll be glad once the improvements to Valley View Highway are complete."I think, overall, it certainly will provide a great benefit to our employees," Whitehead said.
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