Shoulder work along North Main Street is currently under way in front of the future site of the Moab Hyatt Place hotel. The Utah Department of Transportation and its contractors recently began design work on plans to widen North Main Street, and under the best-case scenario, construction work on a four-lane roadway could begin in 2019. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

Bye-bye, bottleneck.

After more than a decade of reviews, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and its contractors are moving forward with design work on plans to widen North Main Street, which is also known as U.S. Highway 191.

UDOT has set aside $14 million for design and construction work on the project, and under the best-case scenario, road construction could begin in 2019, according to UDOT Region 4 Communications Manager Kevin Kitchen.

“It’s all dependent on the drainage situation, and other odds and ends,” Kitchen told the Moab Sun News.

The agency is planning to widen the roadway from the point where it currently narrows near the Hampton Inn to the intersection with state Route 128.

Most of the stretch between those two points will be expanded to two travel lanes in each direction, with a two-way left-turn lane and shoulders, with the exception of the narrowest section of the roadway. In that spot, UDOT will add left-turn pockets that offer northbound travelers access to the frontage road near the Holiday Inn Express. But the road between the two frontage road intersections will otherwise be limited to two travel lanes in each direction.

“Geography is basically dictating what’s going on in that section, where we don’t have a lot of options,” Kitchen said.

Moab City Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd has been hearing about the need for the project ever since she was elected to her seat in 2015. While it won’t necessarily solve all of the city’s problems with traffic congestion, she said, she supports it wholeheartedly.

“It just has to be done,” she told the Moab Sun News. “We have too much of a bottleneck on the north side of downtown.”

Growing numbers of tourists – especially during peak-visitation periods like Memorial Day weekend – are only partly to blame for the bottleneck conditions. As one of the few roads in Utah and Arizona that crosses the Colorado River, 191 serves as a major regional freight transportation corridor, bringing heavy year-round truck traffic from Texas and New Mexico to Salt Lake City and the Pacific Northwest.

“There has always been a capacity issue,” Kitchen said.

Before the last environmental assessment of the project was completed in 2006, UDOT explored the possibility of developing a traffic bypass that would have steered vehicles away from Moab’s downtown core. However, the department eventually backed away from that idea, due to opposition from downtown business owners and others in the community.

“Most people wanted to keep that traffic in town,” Kitchen said.

Project will address Stewart Canyon flooding

Moab City Engineer Chuck Williams said that Lehi-based firm Civil Science, Inc., is doing the design work on the project. So far, the project team has also held discussions with property owners about potential right-of-way deeds for the project’s drainage component.

UDOT is hiring another contractor to reevaluate the environmental assessment from 2006, while the City of Moab has made commitments to participate with the department as a cost-sharing partner. Williams said the city is getting involved in the project in order to help reduce the potential for flooding along the roadway, particularly in the area just below Stewart Canyon.

“It will solve … hopefully, a lot of our drainage problems in our system today, because the drainage crosses the highway,” he told the city council during its meeting on Monday, Jan. 22.

Previous drainage studies have identified the need to build a detention basin in the Stewart Canyon area, where a large pipe would carry stormwater away from a flood-prone stretch of the roadway near Cermak Street.

“It gets a lot of erosion (and) high flows of water coming off there,” UDOT Project Manager Troy Torgersen said. “… It makes a mess across 191 and your local roads.”

A monsoonal storm last summer muddied up North Main Street and many of the businesses along the thoroughfare, and while meteorologists labeled that storm a 100-year flood event, Knuteson-Boyd said that flooding is a perennial concern in the area.

“It may not flood that bad, but it’s always problematic when we get those downpours,” she said.

In addition to the planned drainage improvements, UDOT plans to extend curbs and gutters to the Moab Springs Ranch property, while lengthening the bike and pedestrian trail to the south.

According to Torgersen, many trail users currently ignore signs at the end of the trail by Raven’s Rim Zip Line Adventure, and instead of crossing at the 500 West intersection, they keep going along the unimproved shoulder.

“They pay no attention to it,” he said. “They get down (past the trail’s end) and realize there’s no more bike trail, and they cross the road … We’re trying to encourage them to cross (at an intersection).”

Torgersen said that UDOT is examining the possibility of relocating or modifying no more than 10 percent of the existing trail, but only in the Raven’s Rim area.

“We don’t want to move the trail,” he said. “We may have some modifications … We’re not planning any changes other than down here (by 500 West, where the trail currently ends).”

The project team has discussed the option of ending the bike trail at Cermak Street near La Hacienda restaurant, and then reconfiguring that street along Main Street. If that option works out, it may install a HAWK (High-intensity Activated crossWalK) traffic beacon like the one near the intersection of South Main Street and Uranium Avenue, which would allow trail users to cross North Main Street safely.

Within the next eight weeks, Kitchen said, the project team plans to hold the first of four open houses about the project, and members of the public will be encouraged to weigh in with their questions and comments.

The open house will likely be held at the city council’s chambers inside the Moab City Center, 217 E. Center St.; additional information about the meeting will be posted once the project team firms up a meeting time.

Design is underway; Construction of four-lane roadway could begin in 2019