'Close calls' prompt new closure signage as City Creek Canyon construction ramps up

Workers install a sign after Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities held a news conference highlighting public safety concerns related to increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in closed areas of City Creek Canyon on Friday.

Workers install a sign after Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities held a news conference highlighting public safety concerns related to increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in closed areas of City Creek Canyon on Friday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Signs were posted in City Creek Canyon nearly seven months ago, informing visitors the canyon access road is closed on weekdays. All areas past about 3 miles up the canyon are closed entirely because of a multiyear project to rebuild a water treatment plant in the canyon.

But the A-frame signs set up at the canyon entrance and along trails that connect with the road haven't stopped some bicyclists, runners and walkers from moving them, sidestepping them, or blatantly ignoring them altogether. This has led to a handful of "close calls" between visitors and construction vehicles, according to the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities.

Jesse Stewart, the department's deputy director, isn't sure how many of these near-incidents there have been, but the department released photos and videos of several cases over the past few months where runners, walkers and bicyclists tried to squeeze past construction vehicles. One incident that stood out to him involved a family of four, including small children, walking next to a moving crane.

"I wouldn't say it was the tipping point, but just the amount of interactions we're seeing — we just want to get the message out there," he said, moments before two walkers and a bicyclist tried to get into the canyon Friday.

People move past closure signs or construction vehicles during times City Creek Canyon was closed to visitors over the past few months. Salt Lake City Public Utilities officials say they've had an uptick of "close calls," so they're adding more signage to remind people the canyon is closed on weekdays.
People move past closure signs or construction vehicles during times City Creek Canyon was closed to visitors over the past few months. Salt Lake City Public Utilities officials say they've had an uptick of "close calls," so they're adding more signage to remind people the canyon is closed on weekdays. (Photo: Salt Lake City Public Utilities)

As the project picks up steam and as temperatures warm up and draw more people to the canyon, Salt Lake City public utilities crews are now installing more obvious and permanent signage to definitively let visitors know the canyon is closed Monday through Friday — and past picnic site No. 16 at all times.

The new signs will remain in place until the project ends in mid-2027. Stewart said there could be times when the canyon is closed during a weekend or holiday, but the department will warn residents in advance.

If the problem persists, he said the department could work with Salt Lake police to issue citations.

"The primary goal here is to keep people safe, he said. "Closing the road wasn't just to close it down just because we can. (We closed) it down because there's a true need to close the road down."

Jesse Stewart, deputy director of Salt Lake City's Department of Public Utilities, speaks during a news conference Friday to highlight public safety concerns related to increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in areas of City Creek Canyon which are restricted due to construction.
Jesse Stewart, deputy director of Salt Lake City's Department of Public Utilities, speaks during a news conference Friday to highlight public safety concerns related to increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in areas of City Creek Canyon which are restricted due to construction. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

The $90 million project to rebuild the aging but vital water treatment plant began in November, which is when the City Creek Canyon closures began. Public utilities officials explained that they closed off the access road because it's too small for heavy-duty vehicles to share with other road users without safety concerns.

However, they've left about the first 3 miles open on weekends and holidays to accommodate bicyclists, runners, walkers, hikers and picnickers who come to the canyon regularly. They also left the dirt trails adjacent to the access road open, adding signs by pathways between the trail and road to keep people off the road during weekdays.

The number of "close calls" isn't the only concern. Most of the work, so far, has been getting operating pieces of the water treatment plant ready for city water needs this summer, while also preparing to demolish the "middle section" of the plant to make way for a new facility, said Bryan Bedell, vice president and market leader for water projects for Haskell Company.

One of several signs that will be placed in City Creek Canyon due to public safety concerns related to increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in areas of City Creek Canyon, which are restricted due to construction.
One of several signs that will be placed in City Creek Canyon due to public safety concerns related to increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in areas of City Creek Canyon, which are restricted due to construction. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

The demolition is planned to begin this month, which is when construction vehicle traffic will pick up. He said people can expect about two dozen vehicles in the canyon making regular trips on the road once that begins. In general, it's anticipated "well over" 1,000 concrete trucks will likely make trips up and down the canyon throughout the multiyear project.

It doesn't take much for something to go wrong between a construction vehicle and a bicyclist or runner.

"Any unplanned interaction with a construction vehicle is a bad interaction," Bedell said. "If someone is used to jaywalking down in the middle of the city and they've got normal automobile traffic, that's dangerous. Doing that here with construction vehicles ... it's not a brush with death, it's death."

Another safety concern is also expected to develop over the next three years. Project officials said all the heavy vehicle traffic will likely damage the access road, so they're warning bicyclists to watch out for cracks and potholes when using the road on weekends and holidays. It will be repaved when the project wraps up in 2027.

Stewart added that the closure may offer the opportunity for people to experience City Creek Canyon in new ways by using its adjacent trails or it could inspire people to venture out to other canyon gems across the Salt Lake Valley.

"The whole Wasatch Front has great high-altitude places to go," he said. "I can stand here and list creeks off for an hour. ... There's an opportunity to get out."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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