Virgin River Gorge construction zone tallies over 40 crashes. Is there a ‘best time’ to travel?

ST. GEORGE — Over 40 crashes in the Virgin River Gorge have been attributed to drivers not paying attention to slowing or stopped traffic caused by the latest round of roadwork.

An SUV crashed into the back of an 18-wheeler on Interstate 25, leaving a family of four severely injured, Virgin River Gorge, Utah, Aug. 6, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire Department, St. George News

Starting in May, the Arizona Department of Transportation began work on the rehabilitation and repair of the decks of Bridges 2, 4 and 5 between miles markers 13 and 16. During this time, there have been 43 reportable crashes related to the construction zone, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The crashes are typically the result of someone failing to slow or stop with the traffic ahead of them, Arizona DPS Sgt. John Bottoms told St. Gorge News Tuesday as he consulted a recent report with statistics related to the Interstate 15 bridge work and traffic incidents.

Despite the signage warning drivers of oncoming roadwork and even a recently installed cue warning system on northbound I-15 alerting drivers of slow or backed up traffic miles in advance, some people just don’t pay attention and end up rear-ending the vehicles ahead of them, Bottoms said.

“We also see people speeding 20-40 mph (over the speed limit) through the construction zones,” Bottoms said, adding that troopers see people speeding through other sections of the gorge on a regular basis as well.

The posted speed through the construction zone is 45 mph and tends to get backed up during times of high traffic volume due to travel being reduced to a single lane in either direction.

Signs with I-15 in the background, Mohave County, Arizona, 2015 | Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation, St. George News

Conversely, Bottoms said, some motorists will go half that speed – or slower – due to being overly cautious or actually wanting to make the driver’s behind them “suffer and wait in traffic” like they had to.

“It happens every single day,” Bottoms said.

In such cases, the troopers are able to pull up alongside the slow drivers and use the loudspeakers on the patrol cars to instruct them to speed up, and if they don’t, they’re pulled over for a slightly longer conversation.

“It takes only one person to cause a backup,” Bottoms said, adding that backed-up traffic can end up creating lines as long as 2-4 miles.

Another problem that creates traffic issues are drivers “not being very nice” when allowing others to merge into a single lane at they approach the construction area. Some notable offenders are commercial truck drivers, Bottoms said.

The sergeant also reminded drivers not to use the median to turn around if they get stuck in traffic. Doing so can create a potential traffic hazard on the other side of the interstate when a slower-moving vehicle pulls on the highway amid faster moving traffic. People caught doing this can end up with a ticket for up to $300.

Is there a ‘best time’ to travel?

Overall, some days traveling through the Virgin River Gorge can either be a routine run up or down the interstate as traffic rolls along smoothly or a trial in patience as traffic slows, stops and backs up due to the seemingly perpetual roadwork.

Traffic through the Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation, St. George News

With the construction slated to last into spring of 2020, if someone is looking to avoid being in a backup through the gorge, Bottoms said getting on the road before 10 or 11 a.m. is the best course of action if they have the luxury of choosing their travel time.

“The earlier the better,” he said. “We start to see backups around 11 a.m. lasting to 6-7 p.m.”

The days when slower travel occurs can also depend on the direction you are going. The long and short of it is that weekends are always going to be a gamble regardless of direction.

Thursdays through Sundays can be the worst days for northbound traffic. There’s a large amount of commercial traffic that travels through the gorge on Thursdays as well.

Southbound traffic is impacted every Saturday and Sunday, with some Friday’s getting worse recently due to students being let out of school for fall breaks, Bottoms said.

Highway 91 from St. George and Littlefield, Ariz. Click to enlarge | Image courtesy of, St. George News

Drivers can also expect traffic to be heavy during the upcoming holiday season starting around Thanksgiving.

For those who want to avoid any possibility of getting stuck in traffic in the Virgin River Gorge, there is the alternate route – Highway 91.

The highway bypasses the gorge entirely, intersecting with I-15 at Exit 8 in Littlefield, Arizona, to the south and connecting to St. George at the north via Santa Clara and Sunset Boulevard.

Trucks pulling wide-loads remain prohibited from going through the gorge during construction and will be detoured to US 93, Nevada state Route 319 and Utah state Route 56 between Las Vegas, Nevada, and Cedar City, Utah.

Vehicles over 10 feet wide will be required to use a 224-mile detour around the Virgin River Gorge starting in early April 2019 | Map from Arizona Department of Transportation, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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