Welcome as it is, Friday's opening of another 11/2 miles of the Bangerter Highway serves largely as a reminder of the task ahead.

The road that's supposed to help bring commuter salvation to the fast-growing suburbs on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley is still only about two-thirds of the way to its eventual rendezvous with I-15."We figure that it will take somewhere around $40 million to finish it," said Thomas A. Smith, the chief construction engineer for the Utah Department of Transportation. The highway so far has cost $70 million.

With facts like that in mind, Friday's ribbon-cutting for the length from 7800 to 9000 South switched between upbeat and grim.

The good news is that UDOT opened the latest stretch 10 months ahead of schedule. The bad news is that the Bangerter Highway already has more cars on it than planners expected by now.

Originally christened the West Valley Highway before legislators decided to name it after its biggest champion while Gov. Norm Bangerter was still in office, the road will reach through South Jordan to 12600 South by the late 1990s and by the turn of the century will bisect Riverton to finally hook up with I-15 at 13800 South.

What's not as widely known is that the artery will probably plunge on from there, coursing through Draper and ultimately tying into 2000 East, creating a companion belt loop - albeit with intersections and stoplights - to I-215.

"There may be some things that will change that, but that's kind of what we're looking at," said Smith, who noted that Draper leaders are already working to set aside a swath of that community to make way for such a project.

The timing of the Bangerter improvements are crucial, said Smith, because west-valley travelers making their way along the Wasatch Front are finding I-15 more clogged than ever as Utah's population continues to surge. And plans to start rebuilding I-15 within the next five years will make traffic even worse on Utah's busiest corridor.

"Completing the Bangerter Highway," said Smith, "is a real key to taking traffic off when we start expanding that."