I cleaned up this email that I recently sent to PRC members so that I can post it on my blog site.
Dear PRC members,
I wanted to share a concern that I have with considering the two sites in the Cedar Valley (Eagle Mountain and Fairfield) for the new location for the state prison. This concern is not one that is covered in the data reported by MGT.
It is already known that there are only 2 limited routes into and out of the Cedar Valley: SR73 (Corey Wride Memorial Highway) and Pony Express Parkway. These are already known limited capacity and red light choked roads that impede traffic into and out of these cities. By their already known limitations, travel to and from other parts of the Wasatch Front and specifically Courts and the U of U hospital, is painstakingly slow especially during the morning and evening rush hours. I describe both of these roads as “Pinched” which is what they do to traffic attempting to flow through these roads. These roads are not I-15 caliber thoroughfares. They are not even Bangerter Highway level roads. Related to this issue, this is a reason that many of the accidents or medical crisis in the Cedar Valley require Life Flight by helicopter. Transportation is not only too long to begin with, but there are always obstacles in the path.
But that is not problem I am trying to make you aware of. It is related, as I will describe below.
The Cedar Valley is between 4,800 and 5,000 feet in elevation, while Salt Lake City is at 4,327 feet elevation. The sites in Eagle Mountain and Fairfield are between 500 and 700 feet higher in elevation than Salt Lake City. Grantsville is actually lower than Salt Lake City at 4,304. The Salt Lake City Airport and the proposed site near it are at 4,227 feet elevation.
This elevation difference may not seem like much, and it certainly is not as high in elevation as Park City is at 7,000 feet. However, because of the shape of the Cedar Valley and it’s elevation it actually has different weather patterns and conditions than the Salt Lake or Utah Valleys. This is most noticed during the Fall, Winter, and Spring months when the temperature is above freezing (38° to 45°F) but is significantly colder (near or below freezing 32°) and snowier in the Cedar Valley than at the lower elevations of the Wasatch Front. Frequently, there are weather conditions in the low 40° degree range and partly cloudy in Salt Lake City and at the same time the Cedar Valley is experiencing blizzard conditions. Many are aware of weather forecasts that say snow on the mountains and benches but partly cloudy or raining in the valleys. When the weather forecasters say “benches”, they mean Eagle Mountain and Fairfield in the Cedar Valley. When the Salt Lake Canyons are closed except for Four-Wheel Drive or chains, which also apply to travel to and from the Cedar Valley. But the traffic reporters are primarily concerned with the ski resorts and fail to mention the Cedar Valley. As a general rule of thumb, if it is raining in the wintertime in Salt Lake City, it is snowing at the Ski Resorts and in Eagle Mountain and Fairfield.
Most people that live along the Wasatch Front, at least in the valleys where most people live, are not aware of how different the weather can be in these higher altitude valleys. For this reason, I suspect that if the prison is located in the Cedar Valley (in either location) that employees, family members, volunteers, clergy, attorneys, etc that will travel from their lower elevation locations to either of the proposed prison sites in Eagle Mountain and Fairfield will be negatively impacted in their travel to and from the Cedar Valley.
It does not happen every year, but it has been my experience while living in the Cedar Valley for the past 20 years that every two to three years there is a major road closure that completely block travel to and from the Cedar Valley and the rest of the Wasatch Front. And these closures typically separate families for a time ranging from hours to days.
Here is a link to a report on my blog site about the now famous Valentine Eve Blizzard from 2008.
True, during this weather event there was snow along the rest of the Wasatch Front in Northern Utah, but as you can see from the photos, this completely shut down traffic between Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs for almost 24 hours. There was 18 inches of snow in Tooele which negatively impacted traffic flow, but that was minor compared to the 7 to 8 feet of snow that fell at that same time in Eagle Mountain. I am fortunate that I have extended family in the Lehi area and was able to spend the night with them. I have talked to other residents of the Cedar Valley that also have developed standing contingency plans to stay when friends or family members when they can’t get home to the Cedar Valley because of weather or traffic conditions.
These types of serious road closures in and between the Cedar Valley and the rest of the Wasatch Front occur every two or three years. Is this the type of transportation issue that the state has considered in evaluating the four final sites? In my conversations with members of the evaluation group, this has not even been discussed or evaluated.
Imagine if the state needs to transport inmates to or from the University of Utah Hospital or State Courts during one of these weather events. During these storms, residents of the Cedar Valley have slept in their cars, in the Saratoga Springs fire station, or in the aisles of local grocery stores. While inconvenient, this was possible. That wouldn’t be the case if prisoners were being transported during these types of storms. If either of the sites in Eagle Mountain or Fairfield is selected, there needs to be a backup plan for what to do when the prison is not accessible for an extended period of time.
On these roads that have described these roads as “Pinched” roads that shut down 2-4 times a year for weather, animal, or traffic closures that are rarely reported in the news. There are herds of wild antelopes in the Cedar Valley that attempt to cross these roads at the least opportune times. Deer and Antelopes are a common road hazard in Utah, but they are particularly concentrated around the open spaces in the vicinity of Redwood Road and SR73 in Northwest Utah County. We have special deer funnels in our area and I’m sure that they help but car and deer interaction is still a daily occurrence in Eagle Mountain and Fairfield.
Traffic is either backed up while the herds cross the roads, or a vehicle crashes into an antelope and shuts down the road until it can be cleaned up.
In addition to the 500-700 foot elevation difference, there is a corresponding temperature difference between the Cedar Valley and the Salt Lake Valley. It is typically much colder, especially in the wintertime in the Cedar Valley than in Salt Lake City. This translated directly into increased heating costs for residents of the Cedar Valley. I doubt that has been calculated into the Maintenance and Operation costs of the various sites.
The evaluations of the final sites are intended to provide a true apples to apples comparisons of the real and expected costs of the various sites. I hope that these elevation, weather, and real world traffic issues are part of the thorough comparisons.