Southern Utah town tries to make road safer for cyclists after deaths

Old Highway 91 in Ivins will get a $8.9 million makeover.

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Traffic volumes on Old Highway 91 averaged 2,100 cars per day during 2019, the most recent numbers available. That’s over three times the 660 cars per day in 2016.

Ivins • Soaring traffic and two bike fatalities on Old Highway 91 are prompting Ivins leaders to launch an $8.9 million makeover of a three-mile stretch of the highway that bisects the town in southwest Utah.

“The road is worn out. It has outlived its useful life, " said Ivins Mayor Chris Hart. “We have to redo it in some form, and just adding a layer of chip seal is not going to satisfy the safety requirements.”

The condition of the two-lane road is only one of its problems. It is also too narrow, lacks turn lanes, which causes traffic backups, and doesn’t have adequate shoulders for bicyclists.

“We’ve had two fatalities in the past 15 years where a vehicle has collided with a cyclist because there’s no real shoulder on Highway 91 for bikes to ride on,” said Ivins Public Works Director Chuck Gillette.

Traffic numbers along the once remote route have shot up dramatically due to Indigo Trails, Mojave Mesa and other major new subdivisions cropping up along the highway. Further exacerbating matters is the construction on the Arizona portion of Interstate 15, near the Virgin River Gorge. To avoid delays, many drivers exit the interstate at Beaver Dam and take the back way on Highway 91 over Utah Hill, through Ivins and on to Santa Clara and St. George.

Traffic volumes on the highway averaged 2,100 cars per day during 2019, the most recent numbers available. That’s over three times the 660 cars per day in 2016, according to the Utah Department of Transportation.

Myron Lee, transportation planning director for the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the traffic numbers this year are undoubtedly much higher than in 2019 due to all the new construction and vehicles being diverted from the interstate to Highway 91.

“We have too many bicycles, motor homes, semi-trucks and pedestrians on that road — all trying to share the same space,” Lee said.

To remedy the situation, Ivins is planning a two-phase project that will resurface and widen the road, add turn lanes and roundabouts to major intersections, and construct a trail for cyclists and pedestrians.

Currently, the city is too cash-strapped to fund both phases of the project but does have roughly $8.9 million to tackle the initial phase — over $3.5 million from the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, $809,000 from the Utah Department of Transportation, and $710,000 from the Washington County Council of Governments. Ivins has committed over $3.8 million for the initial phase, according to Gillette.

Ivins officials’ plan is to use that money to resurface 1.4 miles of Highway 91 from 200 East to 600 West (Kwavasa Drive), add seven feet of paved shoulder on each side of the road for bike lanes, realign 200 East, Main Street and 200 West to intersect with the highway at proper right angles and add left turn and deceleration lanes at those locations.

Phase one also calls for adding roundabouts at the 400 West and 600 West intersections on the highway and constructing a 10-foot-wide trail for cyclists and pedestrians on the north side of the road, stretching three miles from 200 East all the way west to the Shivwits Band of Paiutes Reservation.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Hart said the city has just put phase one out for bid. Construction is expected to begin late this year or early in 2023. Once additional funds become available for phase two, the mayor added, the city will widen and make improvements to the remaining 1.6 miles of the highway, from 600 West to Fire Lake Park at Ivins Reservoir, which borders the reservation.

Even though the city lacks sufficient funds to do the entire project now, Ivins Councilman Lance Anderson believes it makes sense to get started.

“Everything will be more expensive down the road,” he said.

However long it takes to complete the entire project, Ivins resident Barb Pridie is willing to wait before venturing out on her bike on the busy highway. The retired registered nurse was hit by a car while riding her bike years ago and is not anxious for a repeat.

“I will not take the chance of having that happen again,” she said. “So I’m really looking forward to an expanded, safer highway.