LAYTON — As the transportation department enters its 12th month of work on a total reconstruction of U.S. 89 through Davis and Weber counties, there’s an ongoing issue at the construction site that just won’t seem to go away: the presence of trespassers.
The issue has escalated so much that Utah Department of Transportation officials and the project’s contractors held a press conference at the site on Tuesday morning. UDOT spokesman John Gleason, the state, Associated General Contractors of Utah and Oak Hills Constructors all have a simple message for the public about U.S. 89: Stay safe by staying out.
“Construction areas have large trucks and heavy equipment working in close quarters, deep trenches and drop-offs, uneven ground and other hazards,” Gleason said. “Right now, particularly on the Highway 89 project, people are underestimating those hazards.”
Gleason said transportation officials have witnessed the gamut of dangerous behavior since U.S. 89 construction began last April. People walking, running or cycling through the work zone has been common. Four-wheelers and motorcycles have also been seen. Crews have even witnessed parents letting children play on construction equipment. Gleason said UDOT is seeing troubling work zone behavior, including trespassers, at constructions sites across the state. But what makes the U.S. 89 project different is its proximity to residential areas.
“A lot of work is happening right up against neighborhoods,” Gleason said. “Some of these areas are paved, so people think it’s safe.”
Gleason said while so far stopping short of anything punitive, UDOT is doing what it can to control the situation, including increased safety standards for site workers. The U.S. 89 project has its own required safety training for crews, and a full-time safety manager ensuring compliance with the safety standards. Gleason said thanks to that emphasis on safety, there have been 500,000 staff-hours worked without a single injury, but he noted that the “close calls” caused by trespassers are mounting.
“As contractors, we can only do so much,” said Rich Thorn, president of AGC-Utah. “Please make sure that your kids, especially, know not to play in work zones or on construction equipment.”
As part of the $555 million U.S. 89 work, the biggest ongoing construction project in the state, UDOT is widening the increasingly congested highway, from four lanes to six, between Farmington and Interstate 84 in Weber County. Signalized cross-street intersections will be eliminated and new interchanges added at 200 North in Kaysville and 400 North in Fruit Heights, as well as at Oak Hills Drive, Gordon Avenue and Antelope Drive in Layton and at I-84 in Uintah.
The state will also build two overpasses, crossing over Nicholls Road in Fruit Heights and Crestwood Road in Kaysville. The plan also includes new side roads, pedestrian bridges, a multi-use trail and bicycle improvements.
According UDOT’s environmental study on the project, the nearly 100-year-old highway is currently operating at failing conditions, and by 2040, the department figures average daily traffic there will increase by 40%. Safety is also a factor in the reconstruction, as the number of crashes on the road has increased with congestion. The state’s environmental study says heavy traffic and signalized intersections cause sudden speed changes, making dangerous conditions for vehicles entering the road from cross-streets, especially for those making left-hand turns.