Sunday, July 30, 2017

Air and highway traffic will continue to boom near Riverdale, Utah, nexus

RIVERDALE — The ever-busier nexus of two airports and two interstate highways is a cauldron of congestion when something goes wrong, such as the four-fatality plane crash Wednesday.

A small plane crashed on Interstate 15 just after takeoff from Ogden-Hinckley Airport at lunchtime, killing all four people in the plane and shutting down much of the highway for several hours and clogging other roads as drivers detoured.

The calamity underscored the potential complications of booming freeway traffic and increasingly crowded airspace at the southern end of Weber County. Interstates 15 and 84 merge just to the north of where the plane went down, and Ogden-Hinckley Airport airspace abuts that of Hill Air Force Base.

“On I-15 the typical volume is 100,000 to 120,000 vehicles a day,” said Vic Saunders, Utah Department of Transportation Region 1 spokesman. “When I came to UDOT in 2008, it was only about 80,000. With traffic numbers growing in the state, we need to keep doing capacity improvements and things like that to keep up.”

In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration moved the airspace boundary between Hill Air Force Base and the Ogden airport one mile to the northwest — giving Hill a greater buffer from Ogden’s commercial and general aviation traffic.

“The FAA found modification of the airspace necessary for the safety and management of aircraft departing and arriving” under instrument flight rules at the Ogden airport, according to an entry on the Federal Register that announced the change.

The rule change also increased Hill’s airspace radius from 4.3 to 4.6 miles.

The Hill and Ogden traffic control towers coordinate every day on flights into and out of the airspace, said Hill spokesman Micah Garbarino,

“More flights would mean more coordination,” he said.

The FAA’s data sheet on the Ogden airport describes “a heavy volume of military aircraft flying over the Ogden airport” at 5,700 to 6,300 feet en route to Hill.

The skies are anticipated to become increasingly crowded over the next few years as Hill ramps up to a full complement of 78 F-35 fighter jets, expected to be completed in 2019, according to previous Standard-Examiner reporting.

At Ogden-Hinckley, Allegiant Air has said it will add Los Angeles and Las Vegas flights in November. A previous 2015 feasibility study for Ogden City outlined plans to increase general aviation use of the airport.

Ogden is also a reliever site when weather prevents landings at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

“Our towers do an excellent job of de-conflicting and prioritizing airspace,” Garbarino said. “If growth occurs our coordination with Ogden airport officials and the FAA will grow along with it to ensure flying safety.”

Wednesday’s plane crash — its cause under investigation — resulted in a travel delay that affected thousands. Northbound I-15 traffic had to be rerouted down Riverdale Road to I-84, and Hill closed the outbound side of its Roy gate. U.S. 89 soon became jammed with cars as drivers took that alternate north-south highway, Saunders said.

Drivers also diverted to 1900 West and 4700 West in Roy, he said.

“It pays to look ahead,” he said. “If people just become familiar with the north-south and east-west routes ... we have a lot of roads, but not all of them are state highways.”

Planned improvements to U.S. 89 and construction of the $725 million West Davis Corridor highway from Farmington to West Point will add to the region’s capacity. 

And particularly during emergencies, Saunders said, “FrontRunner, bus routes, all those things, can help reduce that congestion.”

On base Wednesday, Hill notified employees of alternate routes, especially via the east gate in Layton to State Road 193, which was one of the contributors to the U.S. 89 rush that day.

“While we have contingency plans to support emergencies such as this, each situation is different and we have to adapt to minimize the impacts as much as possible,” Garbarino said. “In unfortunate situations like the one that occurred this week, traffic delays are unavoidable.”

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