AMERICAN FORK — You'll soon be able to receive a clearer cellular signal in American Fork Canyon. A project designed to boost cellular and emergency 911 service in the area is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
Those behind the project believe it will be a boost for emergency services in the canyon, while at least one group believes the work isn’t necessary.
The project, under joint agreement between the Utah Department of Transportation, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Parks Service, as well as private fiber optics contractors, will extend fiber-optic cables west of Timpanogos Cave National Monument to Tibble Fork Reservoir and along state Route 92 to an area between Mutual Dell campground and Pine Hollow trailhead, according to Geoff Dupaix, communications manager for Utah Department of Transportation Region 3.
The group is currently working to receive environmental clearance, and there’s no definitive construction schedule yet. Dupaix said some preliminary construction may begin later this year, but the bulk of the construction will likely be conducted in 2020 when the project expected to be completed.
“What it’ll allow us to do is to install about 26 cameras in various locations throughout the canyon area, as well as it provides us the opportunity for cell service providers to install cell towers along the roadway — and both of those will help with emergency services but will also allow us to provide more real-time traffic information and weather conditions,” he said. “Users of the canyon will be able to know what to expect and what’s going on in those canyon areas.”
The project itself is similar to a 2014 project in which fiber-optic cables were placed along state Route 210 in Little Cottonwood Canyon to provide better cellular and emergency 911 service in that canyon. At that time, UDOT officials said the lack of cellular service made response time to crashes difficult. Another fiber-optic project was completed in Big Cottonwood Canyon prior to that for the same reason.
Work to increase emergency phone service in American Fork Canyon began about the same time as the Little Cottonwood Canyon project. In winter 2014, a BYU student was killed by an avalanche while snowshoeing near Tibble Fork Reservoir. In 2015, a new emergency phone in the canyon was added after an agreement was reached between the Lone Peak Fire District and the U.S. Forest Service following the student's death. The fiber-optic cable is the next step in boosting emergency services.
There’s at least one group opposed to the plan. Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon, a group dedicated to protecting the area from commercial development, contests the plan is unnecessary. In Facebook posts Wednesday, group officials said safety could be improved by the forest service moving its ranger station North Fork of the canyon
“Make the Ranger and Forest Staff accountable to public safety,” the group wrote in a post, noting the 911 box already exists near Tibble Fork Reservoir. “This is not about cell service, (it’s) about EMS and (Forest Service) personnel being in a trained position to respond within 2 minutes or less to Tibble Fork ... totally (doable), but mindsets have to change.”
However, it appears the project is full steam ahead. Dupaix said the project exemplifies a good partnership between agencies, where the agencies and public equally benefit.
“It improves the ability to communicate within the canyon, as well as for emergency service,” he said. These types of partnerships are really an example of what can be done when various groups work together for a common purpose.”