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The long-awaited connector road that will give residents in south and east Provo quicker access to I-15 and reduce congestion on University Avenue should be ready for traffic by the fall of 1997.

Utah Department of Transportation officials were expected to award the construction bid for the project this week. Wadsworth Brothers Construction was the low bidder at $11.1 million.The road will connect U.S. 89, or State Street, from Slate Canyon Drive with East Bay Boulevard near the East Bay Golf Course parking lot. East Bay Boulevard connects to University Avenue near the I-15 interchange.

"When this is complete, it should funnel off traffic from the entire southeastern section of town onto this road," said Nick Jones, city engineer.

Construction is scheduled to begin next month, and the contract calls for the road to be open by November 1997. A final seal coat will be put on the road in May 1998.

The total cost of the project is about $14 million. Besides the actual construction expenses, more than $2 million will be spent on design, engineering and administrative work. More than $500,000 will be spent to acquire the 19 parcels of land needed for the right of way. Two landowners are challenging the appraised value of their land in court.

"They want more than the appraised value, and federal procedure does not allow for that," Jones said.

About $4 million of city money will go to the project. More than $9.5 million will come from federal grants. One grant for $1 million was once earmarked for a new road from I-15 to the Provo Airport but was switched to the connector road project after a long political battle in Washington.

"We've been fighting for little pieces of funding all over the place," Jones said.

Traffic studies show that more than 40,000 cars travel on University Avenue each day. Jones said the new connector road will pull about 6,000 cars off of University Avenue onto other roads, reducing traffic downtown and on 300 South.

As part of the project, a new traffic signal will be installed at Slate Canyon Drive where the road meets State Street. The light should reduce some of the traffic hazards now associated with south State Street.

Future plans call for Slate Canyon Drive to be widened and extended to meet Center Street near Seven Peaks Water Park. Also, the connector road will someday be extended west along 1860 South south of Novell to a new I-15 interchange.

Not only will the connector road solve traffic problems, but the improved access to southeast Provo should spur economic development on land along State Street. The project could also enhance the value of the old Ironton Mill property, which the city owns and plans to develop someday.

The new road might also serve the city's proposed minor league baseball stadium and the Olympic practice ice facility. The ice sheet will likely be built on the east side of East Bay Golf Course. The stadium could end up at Seven Peaks or near the Pioneer Drive-In on south State Street.

"This road is something the city really needs," Jones said.