Despite the snowfall and crisp temperatures, crews were in Draper and South Jordan this past week, demolishing houses in preparation for a new freeway interchange at 11400 South.

The four houses, while long abandoned, are the first of several homes that will be torn down during the two-phase project. The first phase of the project, which includes construction of the $35 million interchange, is scheduled to begin in early summer and will last about two years.

Part two of the project is still unfunded. It includes widening of 10600 South and extension of 11400 South to the Bangerter Highway. At least 26 homes, still occupied, will be demolished during the second phase.

While a handful of residents have fought the project for years, the Utah Department of Transportation says a new interchange will help relieve congestion in the southern part of Salt Lake County. Draper and South Jordan are both experiencing rapid population growth.

"This is to relieve congestion at 10600 South and 12300 South," said Kristina Tingey, a UDOT engineer and member of the 11400 South project management team.

"Without this interchange, those other interchanges will be at a standstill," said UDOT spokesman Nile Easton. "This gives us a third alternative for people in the surrounding area."

Residents who oppose the project say other alternatives need to be looked at. Three years ago, a community group filed suit against UDOT, requesting they re-evaluate the impact and need for the interchange. The suit was dismissed after UDOT agreed a new study of the project was needed because of growth in the area.

Unless a new lawsuit is filed, Tingey says the demolition does foreshadow the coming of construction this summer.

To prepare for the demolition, UDOT was required to document the condition of the homes and photograph the interior, exterior and surrounding land. The documentation was needed because the homes were historic, once part of a family farmstead, said UDOT archaeologist Charles Easton.

But city officials considered the homes, long abandoned, a blight. They were a magnet for transients and a liability for UDOT, said Easton. Because the interiors had been gutted, not much could be preserved. At least one of the homes, the main residence on the farmstead, couldn't be moved because of an unstable foundation, according to Tingey.

That home, a brown brick building with a gabled roof, was torn down Thursday. Cost of overall demolition: $43,000.

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