SALT LAKE CITY — Some area residents are worried about the potential safety concerns posed by a proposed freeway interchange near Hunter High School.
The Utah Department of Transportation plans to build on- and off-ramps on 4100 South just west of the school in West Valley City where two students were killed and three other people were seriously hurt in May in a tragic crash near a busy intersection.
UDOT officials say they've worked closely with the Granite School District to develop a project that would include student safety as a top priority. But some critics claim putting the interchange in the proposed location would create an even greater driving hazard.
"The concern is that building the interchange would send all of those student drivers right into the intersection of 4100 South and 5600 West," said resident Mark Goodman. "The idea of putting thousands of more cars onto 4100 South just doesn’t seem like a good idea."
Goodman was joined by two other concerned residents at a Granite School Board meeting Tuesday. Their main concerns were high school students rushing in and out of school and the added traffic that sporting events would bring to 4100 South.
"I think it is hard for UDOT to understand what they are actually dealing with, until they go out there," Goodman said. "We see it every day. We see that traffic every single day."
According to Granite District spokesman Ben Horsley, the district has worked directly with UDOT for about three years on issues concerning the project and has had ample input on the project's development.
"We feel very confident that UDOT has taken the opportunity to address any concerns that we've had specifically as it relates to student safety," Horsley said. "In the teamwork that we've had with UDOT, (transportation officials) have addressed any and all concerns with regards to this project."
On May 9, Jacob Armijo and Avery Bock, both 16 years old, were killed when the car they were traveling in collided with another vehicle just north of the intersection at 4100 South and 5600 West. Cassidy Porter, 17, was critically injured in the collision, and another passenger, Leticia Cordero, 16, was seriously injured.
Police said the blue Honda Civic carrying the four Hunter High students was traveling north when it swerved into the southbound lanes on 5600 West and crashed into a tan Toyota Corolla. The driver of the Corolla, 40-year-old Monica Hood, was also seriously injured in the collision.
"Our hope is that UDOT will be able to come up with another proposal that would take those additional cars off the street (and increase safety)," Goodman said.
He suggested installing the interchange at 4700 South, but UDOT officials said that's not feasible because of nearby rail and logistical concerns. Still, the Granite School Board voted Tuesday to recommend 4700 South as the preferred location for the interchange.
"I don't want to sacrifice the safety of our students because it may be more convenient on another road," Goodman said. "I think the safety of the students should be the first thing we think of. … If it costs us more money and if it takes us a little bit more time to figure that out, I think that needs to be done."
Teri Newell, UDOT project director for the Mountain View Corridor, estimated that the interchange at 4100 South would increase traffic there approximately 10 percent but reduce traffic on 5600 West by up to 25 percent.
"We're trying to widen 4100 South appropriately so the road can handle the (added) traffic and the reduction on 5600 West could be a benefit to the school," Newell said.
The proposed configuration would allow right turns only into and out of the school's parking lot, she explained. A median in the center of the road would prevent left turns from westbound or northbound drivers, Newell added.
Funding for construction of the proposed $180 million interchange project will not be available until 2014, she said. That gives UDOT time to develop a plan that would hopefully mitigate the concerns of area residents and provide the safety all involved are trying to provide. The interchange is expected to take up to two years to construct, Newell said.
Contributing: Julian Reyes