GARDEN CITY — The Utah Department of Transportation hopes the runaway truck problem on U.S. 89 as it weaves through the northern reaches of the state is now a thing of the past.
The state recently wrapped up construction on an “escape truck ramp” on U.S. 89 near State Road 30, as the highway comes into Garden City in northwestern Rich County.
UDOT Public Information Officer John Gleason said the ramp features a “catch net” cable system, which is the first of its kind in Utah. The system uses a series of cable nets to stop runaway semi-trucks, where the cables wrap around out of control vehicles, causing them to lose speed and eventually stop. The project also includes a concrete apron that guides runaway vehicles into the optimal position to meet the cable barrier system and stop momentum.
In the past two years, the area has seen a rise in runaway truck crashes. According to The Associated Press, there have been three serious crashes at the location since late 2018. Toward the end of that year, a semitruck driver was killed when his truck crashed into a sporting goods store. Then, in August of 2019, two large semitrucks crashed in the area within a week of each other. Injuries in both crashes were minor, but the vehicles were totaled and storage buildings nearby were damaged.
“We never had a truck run through Garden City like that ... when it took out the store,” said Garden City Mayor Mike Leonhardt. “We never really thought another one would blow through it again ... but when the second one rolled through, it was like, ‘OK, you know what, we have a problem.’”
According to UDOT traffic statistics, at about 2,500 vehicles per day, the intersection of U.S. 89 and S.R. 30 carries about 25% more traffic today than it did 20 years ago. The section of road comes out of Logan Canyon and is heavily used by people traveling into Garden City and the Bear Lake area. The new ramp is on the last hill coming out of the canyon, just before motorists reach Garden City.
“We are a tourism destination,” said Leonhardt. “Tons and tons of people come down this canyon to look at the scenery, to look at Bear Lake, to recreate here.”
UDOT Project Manager Tom Roylance said the runaway ramp should be a last resort and drivers should make sure their vehicles are in proper working order before venturing through Logan Canyon.
“UDOT is trying to make this area as safe as possible, but it’s also a shared responsibility,” he said. “We do have a brake check area up at the top and those that are driving large trucks, they should take a moment to stop there and check over their vehicle to make sure they’re safe to come down this long, steep grade.”
Earlier this year, the Utah Transportation Commission approved a measure that gave the project a $1 million funding infusion to cover higher-than-anticipated construction costs, according to commission documents. During the project’s design phase, transportation officials determined that the right-of-way needed for construction would cost more than estimated, due to the extent of the slopes that need to be built up to support the ramp.
According to UDOT’s website, the project is worth $5 million.