For holiday travelers and shoppers on Saturday, November 30, traffic problems were bigger than anyone could have imagined in Lehi when I-15–both northbound and southbound lanes–were closed for nearly 10 hours after a semi-truck with double tanks full of butane overturned near milepost 282. Lehi City officials decided to evacuate residents and businesses in the area when it was discovered that one of the two tanks was leaking highly flammable butane, according to Cameron Boyle, Lehi City Assistant City Administrator.
The wreck occurred about 10:30 a.m. on Saturday when the northbound semi-truck lost control, wrecked and tipped over on the freeway. The northbound lane was closed immediately, and the southbound lane was closed soon after.
The I-15 freeway was closed from Main Street in Lehi to about 14600 South in Draper. Once the freeway was closed, drivers were required to make U-turns to exit the freeway. “Our police and fire along with Volunteer in Police Service (VIPS), responded to the accident and helped redirect traffic to State Street, Timpanogos Highway, and Redwood Road,” said Boyle, whose wife was stranded on the freeway behind the wreck. “It took her about 40 minutes before she was able to make a U-turn and get off the freeway.”
Another tanker was brought in to “off-load” the butane and drain the wrecked tanker. “It took longer than expected to remove the butane, upright the wrecked semi-truck and get it stabilized,” said Boyle. The southbound lane was opened up at about 7:30 p.m. and the northbound lane opened about a half-hour later.
“Many of Lehi’s police and fire workers and city administrators came in on their day off and worked the incident,” said Tim Robinson, Deputy Chief of Lehi Fire Department. “There were about six of us working out of Lehi’s (relatively new) Emergency Operations Center managing the incident, coordinating the operations and communicating with all of the agencies involved. We got a chance to really test out Lehi’s EOC,” he said. “We feel like we did well in handling the communications and learned some things as well.”
“The driver of the semi was shaken up,” said Robinson. “There were no obvious injuries, but we took him to the hospital to get checked out. He was released the same day.”
On Monday afternoon December 2, at about 4 p.m. northbound I-15 traffic was snarled again. Just two days after the butane truck wreck, both Lehi Fire and UDOT were dispatched to another semi-truck overturned in the same location on the freeway, according to Robinson. “The second wreck involved a triple axle semi-truck. The third (rolled) trailer was full of automotive parts,” said Dupaix. A heavy-duty tow truck was dispatched, and a couple of lanes of the freeway were closed just before rush hour.
According to Geoff Dupaix, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), the biggest challenge on the Tech Corridor project where these dramatic accidents took place, is excessive speed. For the four-mile construction zone, the posted speed is 60 miles per hour. At higher speeds, it is hard for motorists to safely navigate the shifting and narrow lanes, but not everyone wants to slow down to 60. “The reduction in speed for that four-mile stretch only adds a minute or two to one’s commute. We want everyone to slow down for the safety of everyone,” said Dupaix.
Frontage roads, new interchanges, new bridges, and new lanes are now open, and drivers have seen traffic congestion clear in some areas. “We are continually working on building bridges. They will be built at 2100 North, 300 West, 100 East, and State Street, as well as over culverts and trails. There are many bridges all being worked on at the same time. The bridges are built in segments, then overnight many can be installed. Some residents may not even realize a bridge is going to be built over a road and the next day it is installed,” Dupaix said.
UDOT has reduced maximum speeds for trucks to 50 mph along the construction corridor to reduce the possibility of additional truck rollovers and accidents.