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Rushing to build a detour around I-15, highway administrators have picked a route for the rest of the Bangerter Highway.

The Utah Department of Transportation plans to start construction on the thoroughfare's last leg next year, completing a project that will link Salt Lake International Airport with Riverton and points south by late 1998.The road is also expected to be one of the main alternate routes circumventing I-15 when UDOT widens the state's busiest road to 10 lanes in a fast-track effort that starts on a massive scale in two years and is supposed to be done in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The I-15 project will create two-lane bottlenecks on a road that is already congested with three lanes in both directions.

"We hope to have the Bangerter done when we begin in earnest on I-15," said Jim McMinimee, director of UDOT's Region II, which includes Salt Lake County. "It's very important to keeping us from getting too bogged up."

The state Transportation Commission on Friday gave UDOT the green light to build the final 6.6 miles of the Bangerter, formerly known as the West Valley Highway and later named for former Gov. Norm Bangerter.

It chose a path through country that is still mostly farmland, along the west edge of Riverton about 4000 West and then east at 13800 South, shadowing Riverton's border with Bluffdale.

The highway will ford a half-dozen canals, a major freight rail and the Jordan River before ending at a new interchange on I-15 at 13500 South, just north of the Utah State Prison. It will displace 16 houses and three businesses and consume 66 acres of agricultural land.

Despite the project's high profile, state leaders have yet to identify funding for it. The Bangerter is among $2.5 billion in what UDOT calls "unfunded transportation needs" for state roads that continue to be overrun by a growth boom that has seen Utah's population increase from just under 1.5 million in 1980 to 1.9 million today, most of it concentrated along the Wasatch Front.

Legislators currently in session have danced around the road-money issue, offering considerable lip service but showing election-year reluctance to either bond for road construction or raise Utah's 19-cent-per-gallon gas tax to pay for it.

The Bangerter's final stretch will cost in the ballpark of $70 million, said Larry Kirby, UDOT's project manager on its early design. Bridge construction and land acquisition make up a large portion of the total, which will bring the cost of all 23 miles of the Bangerter to almost $200 million.

The highway in late 1994 was opened to 9000 South and this year UDOT crews will begin pushing the road further south in an effort that will reach 12600 South in two years.

The Bangerter along its entire route is a four-lane road with limited access, though it has numerous intersections with signals. Constructed to serve the west side of the Salt Lake Valley with a quick north-south route, its use has already exceeded expectations.

The road is designed for 60 mph traffic but is posted at 50 mph.