HERRIMAN — An average of 100 traffic deaths happen between Memorial Day and Labor Day in Utah — more than any other time during the year despite sunny weather and smooth roads.
And the Utah Department of Transportation worries this summer could bring increased risk as more people weary of pandemic-induced shutdowns finally head out for summer travel.
"There's a lot of different reasons why we see the increased number of fatalities (in summer) … more people out on the roads, it's usually smooth sailing on the roads, you're not contending with weather. And so a lot of people lose focus; they're not as committed to safe driving as they maybe would be during the winter months," said John Gleason, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman.
"Because during the winter you're white knuckling it, you're slowing down, and you're taking all of those steps because the road conditions usually make sure that you're doing all that," he added.
In years past, the Beehive State has held a summer safety awareness campaign called "100 Deadliest Days," encouraging drivers to take extra precautions between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But after more than a year of COVID-19, transportation officials decided it's time for a different approach.
To kick off Memorial Day enforcement Troopers around the Beaver/Iron County line this afternoon hit the roads in full force.— Utah Highway Patrol (@UTHighwayPatrol) May 28, 2021
In just 5 hours they made:
62 traffic stops
4 speeds over 100
1 alcohol DUI and open container in a commercial vehicle.
1 property damage crash pic.twitter.com/sIvLufL9fC
Through the new "Summer Safely" campaign, officials hope to help drivers consider the steps they need to take to make sure they get to their summer destinations safely, according to Gleason.
"There's a lot of focus on luggage, on pool equipment, on camping gear, but what we always need to remember to focus on is getting there safely, because it's impossible to enjoy your vacation if you're not taking those steps," he said.
"We're trying to focus more on the positive after everything we've all been through over the last year, hunkered down and probably not spending time the way we wanted to. I think there's a great anticipation and a lot of excitement about being out there, spending time with family and friends, and really enjoying our summer months," Gleason said.
He urges drivers to "drive safe, drive calm, drive focused, drive sober, and always wear your seat belt."
There's a lot of focus on luggage, on pool equipment, on camping gear, but what we always need to remember to focus on is getting there safely, because it's impossible to enjoy your vacation if you're not taking those steps.
–John Gleason, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman
Expected Memorial Day weekend conditions
The weekend is expected to bring mostly sunny weather, according to KSL meteorologist Kristen Van Dyke. Temperatures will climb into the low 80s on Friday, and a weak storm front will bring slightly cooler temperatures the next day. But Monday will likely be another warm, sunny day, with temperatures in the mid-80s, she said.
An estimated 37.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this Memorial Day weekend, which would be a 60% increase over what happened last year, the American Automobile Association reported earlier this month.
A vast majority of that travel — about 34.4 million in total and nearly 93% of it — will be on roads, which would be close to 12 million more people on the roads from last year. The main reason for that, according to AAA, is the growing number of people vaccinated and consumer confidence.
But as more people are expected to hit the roads this weekend, the Utah Department of Transportation is advising drivers in Utah to expect delays in certain locations tied to the holiday. This Memorial Day weekend, UDOT expects a lot of people on the roads, Gleason said, encouraging drivers to make sure they're driving alert and wearing their seat belts.
Ongoing construction throughout Utah will also pose a risk to both construction workers and drivers, he noted, urging drivers to follow reduced speed limits. Motorists should make sure they get enough sleep the night before a trip and consider taking periodic driving breaks, especially when traveling along long stretches — like the popular vacation route from northern Utah to St. George, Gleason said.
"If you ask yourself, 'Do I need to pull over, am I too tired?' The answer is yes," he said.
On Friday, drivers should plan ahead for 20-minute delays on southbound I-15 in Salt Lake County and northbound I-15 in Davis County. On Monday, 20-minute delays are expected on northbound I-15 near Nephi and westbound U.S. 6 in Spanish Fork Canyon, Gleason said in a video posted on social media.
UDOT is working to open up construction lanes "wherever we can" to aid travel, according to the spokesman.
There are still a few locations across the state where there may be lane restrictions tied to ongoing construction projects. Those areas are:
- I-15 near Beaver: Lanes are narrowed for a bridge maintenance project in Beaver.
- I-15 in Clearfield: Lanes are open but lane splits are in place on both directions of I-15 near Clearfield to help crews work in the median of the freeway. The speed limit is 60 miles per hour in the work zone.
- I-84 near Morgan: The freeway is reduced to one lane in each direction between Morgan and Henefer due to pavement and bridge maintenance in the area.
- U.S. 40 near Jordanelle Reservoir: Two lanes remain open in each direction on the highway but traffic will be shifted due to the construction of new bridges.
- U.S. 40 Starvation Reservoir bridge: All lanes will remain open from Friday morning through 10 p.m. Monday. The highway will be reduced to a one-lane road with alternating directions of traffic controlled by a temporary signal after the long weekend ends. Fifteen-minute delays are expected when that happens.
- U.S. 191 in Moab: Main Street in Moab will remain reduced to one lane in each direction this weekend, which may lead to delays.
- State Route 12/State Route 63 near Bryce Canyon National Park: Motorists will have to use a temporary configuration at the intersection of S.R. 12 and S.R. 63 that includes some unpaved portions. Construction crews are still working on a new roundabout at the intersection.
- State Route 39 in Ogden Canyon: The highway will be reduced to one lane with alternating traffic controlled by a temporary signal near the mid-canyon bridge between Ogden and Pineview Reservoir. Officials said that delays may last 15 minutes or more so drivers may want to use another route to and from Pineview Reservoir, Huntsville, Eden and the Ogden Valley.
- State Route 276 at Lake Powell: UDOT's Lake Powell ferry that connects S.R. 276 between Bullfrog and Hall's Crossing is still closed due to low water levels at the reservoir. Drivers will need to use state Route 95 instead not just this weekend but for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, three seasonal routes reopened this week. Those routes are:
- S.R. 39 (Monte Cristo): East of Ogden
- State Route 65 (Big Mountain/East Canyon): Northeast of Salt Lake City
- State Route. 224/190 (Guardsman Pass): Big Cottonwood Canyon to Park City
#RoadUpdate 👋 BCC travelers/those coming from Park City! @utahdot opened #GuardsmanPass. Watch for crews working on roadway today. 🙏 to our crews for making this happen by #MemorialDay wknd. Safe travels! @parkcitygovt@summitcountyUT@wasatchcounty@brightonUT@UDOTTRAFFICpic.twitter.com/fiLzOwmKZ2— UDOT Cottonwood Canyons (@UDOTcottonwoods) May 26, 2021
Where are gas prices the highest and lowest this weekend?
AAA also keeps tabs on gas prices across the country and, overall, Utah's gas prices are 31 cents above the national average heading into the holiday weekend. Utah's average as of Friday was $3.354 per gallon, while the national average was $3.044.
The West was home to the most expensive gas prices ahead of the weekend, led by California at $4.183 per gallon. Most of the cheapest prices are in southern and central parts of the U.S. For instance, Louisiana checked in with the lowest costs at $2.713 per gallon.
The organization also has averages within Utah's counties. Its data show prices are the cheapest in northeast Utah and most expensive in south-central Utah.
- Piute: $3.58
- Wayne: $3.54
- Garfield: $3.52
- Beaver: $3.48
- Rich: $3.47
- Duchesne: $3.19
- Uintah: $3.21
- Carbon: $3.25
- Iron: $3.28
- Juab: $3.29