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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) The ThrU Turn intersection at 12300 South and Minuteman Drive in Draper Tuesday July 16, 2013.
Do newfangled intersections ruin business?
ThrU Turn » Complex road design blamed for access problems in Draper and Kearns.
First Published Jul 29 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:35 pm

His message, unfortunately, was prophetic.

"You’re gonna kill me — I’m going to be dead," Jim Sachs told Utah highway officials, referring to the Common Cents gas station he owned on 12300 South near Interstate 15 in Draper. He worried a first-in-Utah, complicated "ThrU Turn" intersection would make reaching his store from the freeway too difficult.

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"No one will want to make two U-turns to get to his station," a written record of his phone call in late 2010 says. The new design requires such complex moves, instead of a single left turn. The record adds, "Common Cents just bought out the Flying J in Draper within the last three weeks. They were not aware of the plans to put in the ThrU Turn and are very upset."

Within a year after the new $5 million ThrU Turn was installed, the gas station indeed closed. But next to the abandoned store, severe traffic congestion has largely disappeared, and the traffic flows much more quickly at the intersection with Minuteman Drive.

These developments sharply illustrate the arguments for and against what is turning out to be a controversial intersection design. UDOT says ThrU Turns — called Michigan U-turns in other areas of the nation — are a great tool to speed traffic, but nearby businesses say it kills customer access. They have filled UDOT correspondence files with tales of struggle and worry.

"You could put up walls along the road with no access and you would have great flow-through. But that’s not what it’s all about. You need a balance of convenience to the consumer and also flow," Paul Hitzelberger, who owns a Del Taco on 12300 South, said in an interview. He owns 25 other Del Taco restaurants but says only the Draper store struggles lately because of the ThrU Turn.

Design » The unusual design of the ThrU Turn gives many businesses heartburn. It has been used at just two intersections so far, at 12300 South and Minuteman in Draper, and at 5400 South and 4015 West in Kearns.

It does not allow any left turns at the main intersection. Motorists wanting to turn left must go straight through the intersection and 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.

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Alternatively, drivers could also turn right at the main intersection, and then make a U-turn to return to the main intersection in the desired direction.

Robert Miles, UDOT traffic operations engineer, said ThrU Turns were selected in Draper and Kearns because they could relieve congestion while avoiding removing businesses at the crowded intersections for widening and could avoid even more expensive options such as building bridges.

He acknowledges they make drivers think differently.

"It looks significantly different. The order in which you make the movements for a left turn is different," he said. "To make a left, you make a right — or you go through the intersection and make a U-turn and come back and make a right."

Complicating matters is that the design adds a physical median between the main intersection and the U-turn intersections — preventing left turns across the road into businesses.

That means to get to some businesses, such as the closed Common Cents store, drivers must make two U-turns from some directions.

From the freeway to Common Cents, "You have to go through the intersection to do a U-turn to do a right turn to then do a U-turn to do another right turn," Hitzelberger of Del Taco said. "There’s an expectation that people will do that. Well, they won’t."

Traffic » A study for UDOT by Avenue Consultants says the ThrU Turn in Draper has helped to dramatically reduce congestion there. UDOT has yet to do such a study in Kearns because of some ongoing lane construction.

"The ThrU Turn reduces the average delay per vehicle at the intersection [in Draper] from 46 seconds to an average of 16 seconds," the study says. Consumer savings — in time and gasoline — are estimated at $1.25 million for the first year.

UDOT spokesman Adan Carrillo said the design change also helped solve a safety concern in the area.

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