Sunday, July 19, 2020

Attempted Extensions of US 163 and 666

If you were to take a look at a map of Utah today, and count up the points where a US route terminates in the state, you'd find six:
  • US 40 near Park City
  • US 89A in Kanab
  • US 91 in Brigham City
  • US 163 near Bluff
  • US 189 in Provo
  • US 491 in Monticello

Notice two of those are in the same region of the state - US 163 and US 491 - and both routes spend relatively little time in Utah before they end at US 191. That has been the case since 1982; officials at the Utah Department of Transportation no doubt noticed this early on, because plans were thrown around at various times during the next decade to extend both US 163 and US 666 (now 491).

From a glance at UDOT's highway resolutions, it looks like at least some of the push to extend these US highways came from one couple in Monument Valley: Gerald and Susan LaFont, who owned the Goulding's Trading Post and Lodge. They believed extending the US highways would encourage more tourists to visit previously isolated areas of San Juan County.

We'll start with US 666. In 1985, UDOT submitted a proposal to AASHTO to extend US 666 west. It would run south to Blanding, briefly concurrent with US 191, before turning west and following SR 95 to Hanksville. There, it would continue west along SR 24, turning west towards Richfield along SR 119. It would follow SR 118 into Richfield, then use SR 120 and terminate at the I-70 south Richfield interchange.

Interestingly, this would have added a US Highway to Wayne County, the only Utah county that lacked an Interstate or US highway. This map was submitted with the proposal to AASHTO:

UDOT, 1985.

AASHTO denied it, citing a circuitous routing, low traffic counts, and "geometric deficiencies". In particular, portions of SR 24 were not built to the standards AASHTO considered necessary for additions to the US Highway network.

But apparently UDOT really wanted this US 666 extension, because two years later, they resubmitted the same proposal to AASHTO, with one minor change at the north end: instead of turning west on SR 119 to Richfield, the route would continue north on SR 24, ending in Sigurd at a junction with US 89 (now the SR 24/118 junction). Unsurprisingly, this was also rejected. Since then, UDOT has not pursued any extensions to US 666 or 491.

US 163 is a bit more complicated. It was created in 1970, extending from Kayenta, Arizona to Crescent Junction. Almost immediately, Utah and Wyoming came up with a plan to extend 163 north, and it was submitted to AASHTO in June 1971. The plan had 163 continuing north from Crescent along I-70, US 6, SR 33, US 40, and SR 44 to Greendale Junction (in other words, today's US 191). But it would have diverged from what is now 191 at Greendale Junction, going northwest on SR 44 to Manila, then northeast on SR 43 and WYO 530 to I-80 at Green River.

At Green River, despite AASHTO's long-standing policy against split routes, the route would have split into a US 163W and US 163E. US 163W would have gone west on I-80 to Granger, northwest on US 30N (now 30) to Kemmerer, and north on US 189; 163E would have gone east to Rock Springs and north over US 187. The two split routes would have reunited at Daniel Junction, with US 163 continuing north through Hoback Junction and north concurrent with US 89 to Yellowstone National Park.

Unsurprisingly, that was denied. But Utah and Wyoming weren't going to give up just yet; the next year, they resubmitted nearly the same proposal, but without the US 163W branch. That was also denied.

UDOT never submitted any requests to AASHTO to officially extend US 163 after that, but they definitely had some plans for it that wound up never happening. But before we can talk about those, we'll need a bit of background on some other routes in the area. We'll go back to 1958, when the State Road Commission first created SR 262 to serve some oil fields in the area. The 1959 legislature approved it with this description:
From a point on Route 47 approximately 11 miles north of Bluff easterly and southerly to the Aneth Oil Field.
That's the same road it takes today, but it didn't make it nearly as far. Despite the name, the Aneth Oil Fields are not that close to Aneth, but a few miles north of the town of Montezuma Creek. So originally, SR 262 ended about a mile east of its bridge over Montezuma Creek itself. The original extent of the route can be seen in this map:

USGS (Utah), 1959.

That only lasted a few years, though - in 1961, the route was extended south to "the junction with the road to Aneth", located in what is now the community of Montezuma Creek. Although it wasn't explicitly stated in that resolution, it looks like UDOT actually took over a little bit more of the road. The next legislative description we have, from 1965, had the San Juan River bridge as the southern terminus. And although I was not able to find any UDOT documents confirming this, this USGS topo has 262 extending past the bridge to a natural gas plant just south of the river:

USGS (Montezuma Creek), 1962.

In addition to the extension to Montezuma Creek, the 1961 transportation commission also discussed a proposed roadway heading east from Montezuma Creek through Aneth, connecting to US 164 (now 160) in Colorado near the Four Corners. At that time, it was agreed that the state would take over that roadway once it was built. By 1965, that project was complete, and SR 262 was extended east on this new road, connecting to a new SH 41 at the Colorado line. So at that point, SR 262 consisted of a highway from SR 47 to Colorado via the Aneth Oil Fields, Montezuma Creek, and Aneth, with a spur in Montezuma Creek to the San Juan River bridge. Here is how that looked on a map:

USGS (Bluff), 1983. 

The short spur south of Montezuma Creek was removed from the legislative description in 1983. That is the year after US 191 was extended south through the area - so if I had to guess, the spur was deleted in a mileage swap in exchange for the segment of what is now 191 between US 163 and the river, which would have probably been county-maintained.

By 1986, San Juan County was building a new road along the San Juan River, connecting US 191 at Bluff to SR 262 at Montezuma Creek. The county apparently sent a large request to the Utah Transportation Commission in 1986 asking the state to take over several county roads, including the new Bluff-Montezuma Creek road. The commission agreed to add that road to the state highway system once it was complete, but decided the rest of the proposal was not justified.

The commission did note that several of those county roads could work well as potential state highways at some point, such as the road northeast from Aneth to the Ismay Trading Post and on towards Cortez, as well as the road from US 163 to Olijato. This could potentially have worked as a swap with SR 262, which UDOT staff wanted to delete, but the commission believed the condition of SR 262 was not good enough for a jurisdictional transfer. At any rate, other than the addition of Bluff-Montezuma Creek, no proposals from that meeting ever happened - SR 262 remains on the state system, and none of those other roads were added.

Remember the LaFonts in Monument Valley from earlier? They suggested to UDOT that US 163 should extend east from Bluff along the new highway, and then further down SR 262 through Aneth to US 160 in Colorado. They also suggested an extension of US 163 to the west - all the way to Cedar City, using the routes of US 160 and SR 98 in Arizona, then US 89 and SR 14 in Utah.

The Cedar City extension would have been cool, but it was kind of a ridiculous proposal, and I don't know if UDOT ever took it seriously. But they definitely did take the eastward extension idea seriously, because when the Bluff-Montezuma Creek highway was completed in 1987, it was added to the state system as SR 163:

UDOT, 1989.

This US/SR duplication is not something UDOT regularly does. In fact, since all route numbers have been treated equivalently in state law since 1977, this sort of thing is not possible...unless both US and SR are considered the same route. And if we look at the 1988 legislative description, that is exactly the case:
Route 163. From the Utah-Arizona State line southwest of Mexican Hat northeasterly to Route 191 near Bluff and beginning again on Route 191 at Bluff easterly to Route 262 at Montezuma Creek.
So as far as the state was concerned, US 163 and SR 163 were the same thing - so it seems logical that they wanted SR 163 to become an extension of US 163 in the relatively near future.

Concurrencies are not included in Utah legislative descriptions, but UDOT does acknowledge they exist. However, as mentioned earlier, state law only distinguishes route numbers, not types - so the highway code implied a "route 163/route 191" concurrency. This resulted in some signage in Bluff suggesting US 163 was in fact concurrent with US 191 all the way through to the SR 163 junction. But since UDOT has never been good at signing concurrencies, this was inconsistent. A better choice would have been to sign a US 191/SR 163 concurrency, or just not sign it at all...both of which were apparently done on occasion.

By 2004, UDOT had given up on any plans to extend US 163 and decided that having one route for US/SR 163 was more trouble than it was worth. So that year, SR 163 was renumbered to SR 162. The new SR 162 also took over the eastern half of SR 262, from Montezuma Creek eastward to Colorado. At that point, US 163 was finally given clear endpoint signage at US 191 southwest of Bluff. Although it's still not entirely clear where US 163 ends (see previous post for more), no changes have occurred in the area since then.

UDOT, 2017.

Route Photos

No photos just yet - this is one of the few parts of Utah I haven't really explored yet.

SR 162

SR 262

No comments:

Post a Comment