Seeing a cracked tanker draining hazardous material into the Provo River was a nightmare come true to those who have long opposed large trucks in Provo Canyon.
"We're lucky that it wasn't worse, but it's an example of why we're trying to restrict excessive truck traffic in the canyon," said Julie Mack, environmental facilitator for Sundance Resort.Mack was among a group of Utah County residents who asked Gov. Norm Bangerter to ban interstate trucks from the canyon last year.
Globs of ammonium nitrate that oozed from a wrecked 40-foot tanker settled on the riverbottom as diesel oil it had been mixed with separated and floated downstream. The tanker rolled into the river early Monday after the driver lost control of the tractor pulling it. The driver wasn't injured.
Mack said haulers of hazardous substances "should choose to stay on the interstate." The tanker, en route from Lehi to Hayden, Colo., could have taken the freeway, she said.
Ironically, however, the interstate ban proposed by Mack and her group would not have prevented Monday's accident because the tanker originated in Utah.
Gary Bryner, who has affiliated for five years with groups trying to ban trucking in the canyon, said trucks shouldn't use the canyon as a shortcut.
"(Provo Canyon) was not designed to handle those large trucks," said Bryner, a BYU political science professor.
Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins also used the accident to reaffirm the city's position that heavy truck traffic should be limited. Also, some chemicals should never be allowed up the canyon, he said.
The Utah Department of Transportation is turning the first four miles of the two-lane canyon highway into four lanes. Monday's accident occurred above the construction.
Bryner said the four-lane road will better handle trucks, but it will create other problems.
"We think it will mean more truck traffic on 800 North (Orem) and University Avenue (Provo)," he said. It would also increase pollution in the valley, Bryner said.
Bryner and Mack said keeping all trucks out of the canyon is unrealistic. They'd rather see an interstate truck traffic limit, meaning only trucks with local origins and destinations would be allowed.
UDOT spokesman Kim Morris said that isn't possible. It's all or nothing. If intrastate trucks are considered safe, interstate trucks should be considered safe, he said.
"The accident rate is below the expected rate for trucks. Statistically, we can't say trucks are a problem," Morris said, noting that Monday's accident "inflames emotions" on the issue.
Reed Reeve, vice president of the Utah Motor Transport Association, said the mishap shouldn't change anything.
"Are you going to ban all the airlines? All the trains? All the cars?," he said. "(Trucking) serves an integral part of commerce. If you thwart the demands of the public, you thwart the economy."