Controversial intersection design won’t hurt businesses, UDOT says
Agency said it has learned its lesson after ThrU Turns hurt businesses in Draper, Kearns.
Published: April 7, 2014 10:53AM
Updated: April 6, 2014 04:59PM
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Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune View looking north on Main Street to busy intersection with Hill Field Road in Layton. UDOT is about to install another controversial ThrU Turn intersection design on Hill Field Road and Main Street in Layton. The design will affect roads to the east at the nearby I-15 interchange and at Layton Hills Mall. UDOT says it is needs to reduce extreme congestion. It is supported by Layton, but similar designs in Draper and Kearns have been controversial and hurt businesses.

A newfangled ThrU Turn intersection already killed one Common Cents convenience store in Draper. So the company is not exactly thrilled that another is now planned in Layton where another Common Cents sits.

“You’re gonna kill me — I’m going to be dead,” Jim Sachs, operations manager for Common Cents, correctly predicted to state highway officials in 2010 about his Draper store on 12300 South near Interstate 15, records show.

This time, he says, traffic is already so horrible along Hill Field Road near I-15 in Layton that the unusual new traffic design may help — or at least not hurt.

“I don’t think they will kill our store” this time, he says. “In Draper, I knew they would, and they did.”

Utah Department of Transportation officials say they learned a lot from controversial, unpopular ThrU Turns in Draper and Kearns — and are using those experiences to improve their coordination with Layton businesses to ensure they are not hurt. They also say the new design will work better than 23 alternatives studied for the area.

Layton officials support the plan. They say congestion is so bad that people are avoiding the area and its businesses, and think it will work well with the locale’s unique problems. Some drivers who wish to avoid long traffic signal waits already are making U-Turns, which the new design will require.

Design • The unusual design of the ThrU Turn, called Michigan U-Turns in other states, has caused heartburn for businesses in Draper at 12300 South and Minuteman Drive and in Kearns at 5400 South and 4015 West. But it has sped up through-traffic there, according to transportation studies.

The ThrU Turn does not allow any left turns at the main intersection — which cuts down waiting time at signals. Motorists wanting to turn left must go straight through the intersection, then make a U-Turn at a special intersection with a signal a few hundred feet down the road.

Drivers then must return to the main intersection and make a right turn to end up traveling in the desired direction. Studies show that in Draper, for example, average delays at signals went from 46 to 16 seconds.

In Kearns and Draper, the design also added physical barriers in the median between the main intersections and the U-Turn intersections, preventing direct left turns across the street into businesses. The Layton interchange already has such barriers in most areas.

Complaints • Sachs said the barriers and design forced travelers off the freeway to make two U-Turns to reach his Common Cents in Draper, which is not very convenient for a convenience store. Common Cents bought that store from Flying J just before construction was announced, and it closed in a matter of months.

­UDOT files are full of complaints from stores in Draper and Kearns. Rancho Market in Kearns predicted the design would put it out of business within a few years. A Walgreens said it previously had the highest sales for that chain in the state but reported “extremely negative impacts.”

Wendy’s restaurants in both locations said the design hurt business. Paul Hitzelberger, owner of 26 Del Taco eateries, earlier told The Tribune that all were doing well — except one in Draper because the ThrU Turn made entry difficult.

Such complaints “definitely have helped us to be cognizant of things that need to be priorities for us to look at as we put together the design in Layton,” said UDOT spokeswoman Elizabeth Weight.

Layton difference • “One of our main concerns was that this would negatively impact businesses” so designs were tweaked several times to address their concerns, Patrick Cowley, UDOT project manager, said. “We feel in some cases we are actually enhancing access now.”

For example, he says, access to Layton Hills Mall off Hill Field Road may improve. One of the new special intersections for U-turns will also provide access to the mall for left turners off of Hill Field. (Copies of plans are online at sltrib.com).

Current turns across Hill Field at Gordon Avenue to the mall will not be allowed, Cowley said. Those turns will be moved a bit further to the new signaled intersection. He said that should eliminate much of the traffic backup along Hill Field.

Cowley said traffic currently can back up a half-mile on roads in the area, including onto the freeway. Much of the problem comes from four major intersections — Main Street, two freeway ramps and Gordon Avenue — within a short distance on Hill Field.

Cowley said congestion there now is so bad that it often takes 10 minutes to travel the short distance from Main Street past the I-15 interchange and beyond Layton Hills Mall accesses. UDOT says the ThrU Turn will cut that delay in half — and prevent waits that would double over the next 25 years without changes.

“People in this area recognize that there is a need for something to be done. Any help would be appreciated,” he said. Of two dozen alternatives, the ThrU Turn is the cheapest and will have the least negative impacts on businesses.

Support • “We absolutely do believe it is a good solution,” said Kent Andersen, economic development specialist for Layton. “And we’re at a point where doing nothing is not an option.”

Anecdotally, many people say they avoid businesses in that area because of congestion, Andersen said, including motorists sitting at lights for up to four cycles.

One reason he says businesses believe the ThrU Turn won’t hurt is that drivers trying to turn from Main Street to Hill Field Road already are driving down the road, making U-turns and returning for an easy right turn to avoid long waits for turn signals. “They call it the Layton shortcut,” Andersen said.

Bill Wright, community and economic development director for the city, acknowledged: “There are a few businesses with concerns about it. There are two sides to every issue.” But he said most are happy with it.

UDOT plans to begin construction this summer, and Cowley said plans call for the project to be completed well before Thanksgiving so it won’t hurt Black Friday shopping at Layton Hills Mall.

Sachs, the Common Cents operation manager, still is a bit uneasy, especially after his ThU Turn experience in Draper. “I think I’m OK,” he said. “But any time UDOT changes movement, it can affect business.”