Keeping Traffic Moving

Keeping Traffic Moving
Posted on 03/06/2018

By Council Member J. Scott Bracken

We’ve all been frustrated when caught in traffic jams only to find out once we make it up to where the problem occurred, the accident is on the OTHER side of the freeway/street. Keeping traffic moving is not only key to getting the most out of our roadway capacity, it also keeps our air clean with less idling and our frustration levels down.

A few significant things we are undertaking to make traffic and roads in Cottonwood Heights better include:

     Pavement Condition Index study (PCI)

• Highland Drive/Fort Union intersection upgrades

    2700 East resurfacing

          Bengal Boulevard and 2300/2325 East roundabout

Nobody likes driving through or around roadwork, yet nobody likes driving on old roads that desperately need repair either. It’s a classic catch-22 and is at the core of one of the most basic responsibilities a city has: keeping up the roads so everyone can get to where they want to go. I find that roadwork and the inherent delays are a little more palatable if you at least know why it’s happening.

The Pavement Condition Index study is in process, and we should have data to review in the next month or so.  This study assesses the condition of EVERY single road/street/circle in the city and assigns a numerical value based upon what the condition is.  For example, a newly constructed road might have a condition index of 97 (out of 100) and a road so worn down that the only option is a complete rebuild might have an index of 25.

With this information, the City Council hopes to outline a path to keep our roads in good condition, and how much funding will be needed to do it. Like most cities, we’ve tried our best to do all we can with the declining value of the gas tax and have supplemented the gas tax revenues (Class C road funds) with general fund money to keep our roads in good repair, but we are falling behind. With information from the study, we can put together a multi-year plan and determine the best way to keep everyone moving.

Last summer, you probably noticed construction around the Fort Union/Highland Drive intersection. Most of that work was done to move the large power poles out of the way so intersection improvements can be made. This project has been a long time in coming. We received federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) money to add double left turn lanes in each direction and dedicated right-hand turns on each leg as well. Some forethought from our engineering and planning departments in the past ensured we’d have right-of-way on the eastside of Highland Drive (Zions Bank and the Check City properties). We’ve acquired the necessary right-of-way at the Chevron station and the Wells Fargo Bank. Work will begin this summer, most likely at the end of May. While we’ll have to put up with the delays during construction, adding the additional turn lanes will allow through traffic to keep moving rather than having to slow down for those making turns. The double left turns mean less time for everyone else at the intersection, as the queue can empty out a lot more rapidly.

This project will also include an upgrade to the entrance from Highland Drive to westbound I-215. The right-hand lane will be dedicated only to the freeway entrance and lane No. 2 will be an option to continue northbound or onto westbound I-215. These lanes will merge prior to the existing single-lane flyover ramp onto the freeway. This will avoid stacking that occurs on the outside lane at the Highland Drive and Blackstone Drive intersection, as well as the last-minute merging that occurs at the freeway entrance.

Additionally, we will be making much needed improvements to 2700 East. We will be reconstructing the section in front of Butler Elementary School. It has deteriorated to the point that standard maintenance will not help anymore. We will also be working to make repairs at other locations along 2700 East down past the Recreation Center for additional surface treatment. This should give approximately another five years of life to the road. We anticipate beginning this project when school is out.

In 2012, our traffic engineers updated an application for funding from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) at Wasatch Front Regional Council to install a roundabout at the intersection of Bengal Boulevard and 2300/2325 East. The application scored higher (for congestion mitigation, delay reduction and reducing emissions) than any other municipal project. The intersections have a combined total of over 17,500 car trips a day. By moving from a split-phase intersection to a roundabout, the average estimated wait time is reduced by about 15 seconds per trip — totaling more than 70 hours of reduced idling per day and an annual cost savings in fuel etc. of more than $200,000 per year. Saving time and money, as well as lessening idling emissions, are great benefits. Construction will likely begin summer of 2019.

I have heard concerns about roundabouts being unfamiliar, newfangled, and even trendy. While this roundabout will be a first for Cottonwood Heights, the use of roundabouts predates traffic lights. Roundabout use continues to grow throughout the country and state — primarily because they increase traffic flow and reduce the number of accidents, especially severe accidents with injuries. The reduction in severe accidents is a natural consequence of removing conflict points (right-angle turns, and head-on approaches) in the intersection. Also, unlike a signalized intersection, there is no ‘green means go’ where drivers do not slow down at all when the light is green. Public awareness and education are the best ways to help keep things moving and to ensure public safety.

Often, we need to go through some inconveniences like road maintenance to improve things overall, but the improvements do warrant the effort to get them done. This summer will be a challenge at the Fort Union/Highland intersection, and along 2700 East. Next year, it will be along Bengal Boulevard. More projects will come after that — out of necessity, they always do! The goal is to keep our roadways up to date with the least amount of delay and frustration possible.