We are writing to you as 17-year residents of San Juan County, concerning a road that is so poorly maintained that we fear that it has become an extreme hazard to the lives of people who travel it.
The road is a county highway that, to our knowledge, begins at the junction of Old Airport Road and Spanish Valley Road. The road is commonly known as the Spanish Valley/La Sal Loop Road. It is a two-lane highway and is part of the La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway. As noted in numerous publications, it is a popular drive with incredible views for cars and bicyclists.
Every year, the traffic on this highway increases, and will likely increase even more with the new 60-passenger airplanes arriving at Canyonlands Field Airport and the implementation of the San Juan County Spanish Valley Area Plan.
In our 17 years of residency here, the road has never been resurfaced. Equally important is that the road has not been properly maintained, and the amount of maintenance performed on it perversely seems to have decreased as the usage has increased. Significantly, there have been two major construction projects that have resulted in heavy trucks traversing that road on a daily basis during the construction. Additionally, cattle traverse it doing significant damage to the hard shoulders and edges of the highway.
In speaking with retired Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) officials, we have learned that it is typical for governmental entities to include contract provisions in road projects that require the contractors to repair or resurface the highway after the projects have been completed. In the case of this highway, either there were no such provision made, or the provisions have not been enforced to-date. We also learned that in the Monticello-area of our county, the county teams with cattle ranchers twice a year to patch road edges damaged by cattle. That doesn’t happen here, or at least has not happened in 17 years.
We are not experts, but we believe that the road should have been resurfaced at least once in 17 years. We note that Grand County has resurfaced their section of the road several times and that public record may be significant if someone is hurt or killed on the San Juan County portion.
As you know, governmental entities are considered to have waived liability and can be held liable for damage to property or harm caused to human beings, if they knew or should have known about dangerous conditions, particularly those regarding safety. Please note that Utah is in accord with most states, in waiving governmental immunity as a defense to liability.
We do not know if there have been official road inspections of this highway in the past, but we urge you to conduct an official inspection as soon as possible.
County officials traverse the road frequently and maintenance crews appear on occasion. We have spoken with them, and they are aware of how serious these conditions are. The county has been on notice, at least unofficially, for quite some time. In any event, please consider this letter an official notice, and report to the county the dangerous conditions that are an extreme safety hazard.
There are potholes in the middle of the road but the real danger appears to be the hard shoulders. What we are observing, on a daily basis, is cars and trucks driving straight down the middle of the highway, and often at high speed, for the purpose of avoiding the damaged shoulders. We have barely averted head-on collisions and driving off the easterly-direction side of the road to avoid a collision.
We thank you very much in advance for your time and attention to this matter.
Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler