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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Tragic accidents along Fort Union Boulevard inspire action by city council

Nov 30, 2023 09:36AM ● By Cassie Goff

“The City Council, staff and myself have been devastated by these three tragic accidents,” wrote Mayor Mike Weichers on Oct. 20. (Photo courtesy of Cottonwood Heights)

As a spike in pedestrian/vehicle accidents continues to impact communities throughout the state of Utah, residents have been encouraging their city leaders to take immediate and long-term action to make the city streets safer for all modes of transportation. 

Three tragic back-to-back vehicle/pedestrian accidents all occurring along Fort Union Boulevard. in October has turned the conversation around lowering road speeds within the Cottonwood Heights to one of the main East/West corridors. The City Council voiced consensus to implement safety measures along the boulevard as quickly as possible. 

“The public is now saying ‘it is dangerous on Fort Union Boulevard probably 10-14 hours out of every day’ and they want to see immediate change,” said Councilmember Ellen Birrell.

“Design of a road is how you really control speed,” Public Works Director Matt Shipp reminded the council. “Fort Union Boulevard. is a wide-open road so it lends itself to fast driving.” 

Shipp encouraged the council to complete a traffic study before changing any major element of a major boulevard as it would need to be weighed against additional aspects of the road such as traffic volumes, location, spacing of driveways, intersections along the road, bicycle and pedestrian activity, site distances, parking, and design speed amid other factors.  

“I am highly recommending that the council direct staff to do that speed study and bring that information back to you so you can make that informed decision based on engineering studies,” Shipp said. 

Besides his recommendation, Shipp referred to Chapter 11.16: Speed Limits of the Cottonwood Heights City Municipal Code which details that traffic studies should be completed before changing speed limits along any road. In addition, Utah’s State Code outlines rules on speed limits along roads. Lastly, Shipp made mention that the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), a Federal Highway Administration document that specifies standards for roadways, requires preliminary traffic studies as well. 

“If we do bring down the speed limits, which I’m not advocating for or disagreeing with, you need to look at everything along that stretch that you’d be changing,” Shipp said. 

In the meantime, City Manager Tim Tingey reminded the council that they were taking additional immediate steps to improve safety along the Fort Union Boulevard corridor. City staff members were currently working to expedite the process of getting an additional HAWK signal installed along the corridor. 

Police Chief Robby Russo also mentioned that not one of the three referenced accidents which originally sparked this conversation involved speeding. 

“Sixty percent of my DUIs are not alcohol-related anymore. They are Fentanyl and opiates. Oh! And methamphetamine,” Russo said. “You spent an awful lot of money on some traffic enforcement issues to handle a lot of these issues.”  

Birrell quickly responded to Russo as she didn’t want to negate the necessity of lowering speeds even if the recent accidents were not directly caused by speeding. 

“There is plenty of data out there that this is an urban street and it should be marked at a much lower speed limit,” Birrell said. “People driving 40 mph cannot come to an abrupt stop for the many things that go on in the Fort Union Boulevard area.” 

“If you lower that speed to 30 mph, I’ll enforce the speed. But we should understand what that does. We will know if that’s what the road calls for when we have the numbers,” Russo said. 

Shipp recommended Fort Union Boulevard to be studied through a timeline of at least two months with speed trailers, emphasizing that data should only be collected when roads are dry and clear in order to collect accurate data. Traffic study data collected during snow storms could skew the data. 

“We want to be looking for what speed the majority of people are comfortable driving,” Shipp said. 

Depending on which sections of the corridor the council would like to study, Shipp estimated a cost between $10,000 and $15,000. 

“I would personally advocate for studying the whole stretch of Fort Union Boulevard,” said Matthew Holton. 

After deliberation, the city council decided that they would like the traffic study area to be West of Mountview Park area and up to 2700 East. Shipp, Tingey, and city staff will work to get a bid on a traffic study out as quickly as possible with the hopes that the study can begin before the snow hits. λ