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Sign offers warning to drivers on Utah's U.S. 6

Vehicle's speed flashes if it exceeds 45 mph

After two high-profile crashes — one just last month — state officials think big and flashy is the way to warn drivers to slow down when navigating a deadly curve on U.S. 6 in Spanish Fork Canyon.

The Utah Department of Transportation installed a warning sign on Friday near "Apple Bend" on U.S. 6. The sign, which is solar-powered, will flash drivers' speeds if they are traveling faster than 45 mph.

"I think no one can say now that they didn't see the sign," said UDOT spokesman Nile Easton. "It will certainly give drivers every opportunity to see that they need to slow down."

A second warning sign is scheduled to be installed on U.S. 6 within the next two weeks. It will be about 10 miles southeast of the Apple Bend curve, near the Tucker Rest Area. The cost for both signs is $58,000.

Apple Bend is the site where a semitrailer truck carrying gasoline rolled and exploded last month, killing the driver. Last year, a truck carrying 38,000 pounds of explosives also rolled and detonated on the same curve, blasting a 70-foot-wide crater in the road.

Speed was a factor in both accidents, according to the Utah Highway Patrol. The accident last month cost UDOT $42,000 to repair the road damage. Last year's accident cost a total of $600,000 to repair, of which UDOT paid for $180,000. The rest was covered by Union Pacific Railroad and the U.S. Forest Service.

Over the past 10 years, UDOT has spent about $110 million on fixes to U.S. 6, including $14 million for rumble strips and passing lanes in the Apple Bend area. The agency determined last year that the road needs to be expanded to four lanes but says it has no funding to widen it.

Widening the road would cost over $1 billion, according to Easton.

"We are certainly doing as much as we can with the resources we have available," he said. "It still comes down to drivers making the correct decisions when driving."

Dave Creer, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association, said he thinks the signs will help, but expansion is the way to truly "fix" U.S. 6, long considered a death trap by residents.

U.S. 6 runs 128 miles from Spanish Fork to I-70 past Price. The two-lane highway has narrow curves and long, open stretches of road. Speed limits reach up to 65 mph in some locations.

In 2005, 13 fatalities were reported on U.S. 6. In 2004, four fatalities were reported.

"The question is, does signage really solve problems?" Creer said. "I would think it's certainly got to help the situation, but it's not the total solution. If trucks were able to maneuver better, either going uphill or downhill in that canyon, there could be less accidents."

Kathy Justice, a Huntington resident who founded a group seeking improvement to U.S. 6, said in an earlier interview that she plans to push lawmakers to run a bill to fund expansion of the highway. Easton said UDOT does not have immediate plans to further improve the Apple Bend area.