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No road rage brewing at UDOT: It's pleased with I-15 progress

Six months have passed since the I-15 reconstruction project began, and motorists are acutely aware of some of the contractor's accomplishments.

Wasatch Constructors, for example, has allowed commuters to spend more quality time alone in their vehicles, given them an excellent recurring excuse for being late to work, afforded them a chance to rack up huge cellular phone bills and provided more opportunities to read funny bumper stickers.Those achievements, while perhaps most noticeable to the average driver, are not the ones to which the Utah Department of Transportation pays attention.

UDOT is concerned with the contractor's progress toward widening and rebuilding 17 miles of the freeway through the heart of the Salt Lake Valley. So far, the construction consortium has encountered few impediments on its demolish-and-rebuild mission.

While motorists have been busy trying not to plow into concrete barriers, take the wrong exit (not that there are many to choose from anymore) or follow the wrong set of lane dividers, Wasatch Constructors has made substantial progress.

Since receiving the official "notice to proceed" from UDOT Executive Director Tom Warne April 15, the contractor has been on time or ahead of schedule in every phase of the massive $1.59 billion effort.

It appears well on its way to receiving the first of several possible bonus checks in November and is on target to have the entire freeway reopened by July 15, 2001.

"The most impressive thing to me is the sheer magnitude of this project and how quickly they've been able to put their team together, get it on site and get a lot of productive work done," said David Downs, UDOT I-15 project manager.

One of the consortium's primary tasks was to move all freeway traffic onto one side of the interstate so the vacant side can be rebuilt over the next two years without traffic interference.

That job will be complete Thursday about 6 a.m. when the final traffic switch goes into effect between 7200 South and 9000 South. After that, the I-15 mainline will look the same until sometime in mid- to late 1999.

Crews also have demolished 10 of the more than 130 bridges to be replaced as part of the project. Another razing will occur this weekend when workers topple the ramp connecting northbound I-15 to westbound I-80. The 400 South viaduct is scheduled for demolition Nov. 10.

Twelve miles of I-215 on the west side of the valley were re-striped during the summer to create an additional lane of travel in each direction, cementing the belt loop's position as the primary I-15 detour route.

Workers recently began installing the underground conduit for fiber-optic cables that will link 550 traffic signals throughout the valley and provide the foundation for a $70 million Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS).

The rest of the contractor's attention has been focused on preparing and stabilizing the ground underneath the future I-15 road surface. Once the old pavement was removed, workers began leveling the earth, building embankments and installing wick drains to speed up the settlement process.

The wick drains will continue to work through the winter, draining out excess water so the road surface won't sink once the new interstate is finished.

"That's really been the push this first six months, getting the wick drains installed and getting the work done that needs to be done before the weather changes so we can start construction in earnest next spring," said Brian Mauldwin, a communications specialist Wasatch Constructors hired away from the Utah Transit Authority. "The good news is that although the weather may not be as good as we'd like, the wick drains will continue to do their job through the winter."

Downs said none of the physical work would have taken place until next year if UDOT had gone with traditional construction methods rather than the accelerated design-build approach.

"The fact that they've mobilized 350 designers and are designing the project and have done this much work has reinforced that decision to go with design-build as the right choice, adding to that the very aggressive schedule they've developed," Downs said of the contractor.

Actual construction work is only a portion of Wasatch Constructors' activities since April.

The contractor had to set up an office to house 550 Wasatch employees, another 60 UDOT workers, more than 300 design subcontractors and representatives of another 35 subcontracting companies. Most of them work out of the contractor's headquarters in the Unisys Corp. building, 480 N. 2200 West. Some are based in three satellite offices closer to construction sites.

The contractor also established a communications network that includes a 50-page Web site (www.I-15.com), a weekly construction report faxed to 950 individuals, businesses and organizations, and a toll-free telephone number (1-888-INFO-I15) that receives thousands of calls a month.

As winter approaches, crews will continue preparing the ground and installing wick drains so one-half of the new freeway can be constructed beginning next spring. Other work scheduled for the next several months includes:

- Partial construction of the steel bridge that will take I-15 across 7800 South and the elevated ramp that will connect eastbound I-215 to southbound I-15. This work can be done off-site and independent of weather conditions.

- Installation of a temporary railroad bridge above 10600 South west of I-15. The structure will be used by freight train traffic while a permanent bridge is constructed as part of the 10600 South interchange reconstruction.

- Relocatation of utility lines throughout the I-15 corridor.

- Installation of ATMS conduit on the shoulder of I-215 and beneath surface streets throughout the valley. Traffic-signal control cabinets also will be installed. Some traffic restrictions will occur as a result.

Designers also will continue to do their work in preparation for next summer's reconstruction projects.

Through the end of September, Wasatch Constructors had been paid $150 million of the $1.325 billion contract it signed in April. It can earn up to $50 million in "award" money for completing the project on time and to the satisfaction of UDOT officials.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Demolished bridges

- 600 North above I-15

- Northbound I-15 above 1300 South

- Northbound I-15 above 1700 South

- Northbound I-15 above 2100 South

- Westbound I-80 flyover ramp to southbound I-15

- Eastbound I-80 ramp to northbound I-15

- 2700 South above I-15

- Southbound I-15 above 4500 South

- Southbound I-15 above 4800 South

- Vine Street above I-15

Bridges planned for demolition

- Northbound I-15 ramp to westbound I-80, Oct. 27

- 400 South viaduct, Nov. 10

Note:

Half of the 3900 South bridge above I-15 has been demolished. Traffic flows one lane in each direction on the remaining half.

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Phone calls

to the I-15 hotline (1-888-INFO-I15)

May 603

June 1,094

July 3,209

Aug. 4,488

Sept. 3,323