Give state officials an A for being frank. They don't know what to do about vastly increased tanker truck traffic that will barrel down U.S. 40 when the volume of crude oil heading from the Uinta Basin to Salt Lake Valley refineries doubles next year. We don't know what to do, either. But like state transportation officials and legislators, we know a problem when we see one.
A study is under way to consider options. The trouble is that those options are unlikely to be available before the truck traffic swells.
If you live in Heber City, where U.S. 40 doubles as Main Street, that's not good news. That could mean one or two of the heavy trucks passing every minute.
Other segments of the route also are problematic. Daniels Canyon above Heber City is steep and can be treacherous during winter weather. The same is true of I-80 through Parleys Canyon before the roadway passes into Salt Lake City. U.S. 40 passes Strawberry Reservoir above Daniels Canyon, and I-80 abuts Mountain Dell Reservoir in Parleys. An oil spill into either of those waters could be an environmental mess.
I-80 is the transportation aorta for Salt Lake City from the east. Adding more heavy truck traffic to that already congested roadway will inevitably add to safety risks.
Those are the negatives. There also are positives. It's good that Salt Lake City refineries will be processing more crude oil from Utah to produce gasoline and other petroleum products. Energy independence is important to the nation and to Utah's economy. It's better to have the oil come from Utah than from somewhere more distant.
So the trick is to manage the down side of Utah's good fortune. Uinta crude is waxy; it is a solid at room temperature. It must be heated to turn it to liquid state, and it must be transported promptly by tanker truck before it solidifies. This same waxy composition makes it unsuitable to move by pipeline.
The transport options include widening U.S. 40, which is two lanes in many segments. Another is to build a rail line into the Uinta Basin. A third is to partially refine the crude close to the oil fields so that it then can be piped to Salt Lake City for final processing. That last plan sounds best from the transport angle, but without seeing a cost analysis, it's impossible to judge.
Which brings us to cost. Who would pay for road or railroad upgrades? Singling out one shipper for special taxes would not be fair, but the impacts from tankers on the roadway would be significant.