State to fix U.S. 40 bottleneck near Heber City

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Taylorsville • A bottleneck on US-40 east of Heber City — made worse by a constant parade of oil tankers stopping there to check brakes — could be improved by a project approved Friday by the Utah Transportation Commission.

It approved moving $1 million from other projects to allow extending a westbound climbing lane over Daniel's Summit, between Heber City and Strawberry Reservoir.

The current climbing lane there ends before the summit. The Utah Department of Transportation says that forces traffic to merge into one lane while still going uphill.

Worse, that is where trucks — especially huge oil tankers traveling between North Salt Lake refineries and Uinta Basin oil fields — stop to check brakes or put on chains before heading down Daniel's Canyon.

The project will extend the passing lane beyond the summit and widen the shoulder to allow more space for trucks to pull off the roadway.

The commission approved that, coincidentally, after hearing a report presented to the Legislature earlier this month about how Uinta Basin could see huge growth in oil and natural gas production — akin to the current boom in North Dakota — except for one problem: the remote area lacks adequate transportation to handle it.

Unless that problem is solved, $30 billion worth of oil and gas may go undeveloped there over the next 30 years. It could cost Utah's economy $10 billion, and prevent creation of nearly 27,000 jobs, according to a study by UDOT and local governments in the basin.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, has asked the Legislature to fund $3 million to start another study to look at possible solutions to the transportation problems — which he has said could range from turning US-40 into a "super highway" to adding a rail line or pipelines.