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Orem • It made a stark sight among orange cones and bulldozers near the huge Interstate 15 reconstruction project: 75 temporary headstones, one for each Utah road fatality so far this year. State officials placed them there Thursday to send a safety message this holiday weekend.
"We want to focus on making it a zero-fatality weekend for Memorial Day," said Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Todd Johnson, standing before those headstones. Officials started a news conference there with 74 headstones, but added a 75th when they were notified of another highway death Thursday morning.
The Highway Patrol is adding extra shifts of troopers to catch speeders and unsafe drivers this weekend. And the Utah Department of Transportation is listing likely congestion and construction spots for motorists, and urges them to travel either before 3 p.m. on Friday or after 7 p.m. on Monday in some areas to avoid the heaviest traffic.
The Highway Patrol will have extra troopers on the road. But, Johnson said, "The goal is not to write a lot of citations. The goal is to keep crashes down and the injuries and fatalities."
Robert Hull, UDOT director of traffic and safety, said that at the end of May last year, Utah had 72 fatalities and already has 75 this year before the usually dangerous Memorial Day weekend. The state wants to stop that higher trend.
"We're doing everything we can to make our work zones and our highways as safe as possible, but we need the public's involvement and help," he said. "Slow down. Don't drive aggressively. Wear your seat belt. Don't drink and drive. Get plenty of sleep."
More than 2.5 million Mountain West residents plan to travel 50 miles or more this weekend, up 1.6 percent from last year, according to a survey commissioned by the AAA travel services company.
"High debt burdens, gasoline prices and uncertainties regarding the strength of the current economic recovery have not deterred Mountain West residents from holiday travel. But many consumers intend to cut back on the distance they travel, as well on entertainment budgets," said AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough.
Meanwhile, UDOT said it is concerned about safety and congestion in its many work zones around the state and has even placed orange work vests on two of the temporary headstones to represent two deaths in those zones so far this year.
"The roads are narrower there. There are many lane shifts, so people need to reduce their speed and watch ahead," Hull said.
Construction projects most likely to cause delays or problems this weekend include:
• I-15 reconstruction from Lehi to Spanish Fork. The northbound off ramp at Provo Center Street is closed for up to 40 days.
• I-84 between Morgan and Mountain Green. All traffic is shifted to the westbound lands. One lane is open in each direction.
• US-89 near Deer Creek Reservoir. One lane is open in each direction in that area.
• SR-14 near Cedar City. A massive landslide had closed that road through Cedar Canyon for seven months. But for this weekend, a temporary dirt road will be open through the area. Flaggers will be on site to assist.
• I-15 in Washington County. Delays are possible from reduced speeds for construction from Toquerville to Pintura.
• I-70 in Sevier and Emery counties. One lane is open in each direction from Fremont Junction to Salt Wash.
Of note, most highways that close seasonally for snow such as the Mirror Lake and Monte Cristo highways are now open.