Interstate widening season is about to begin, and this time it will be the biggest public-works price tag in Utah history. Provo River Constructors, a 31-company consortium headed by Fluor Enterprises and Ames Construction, has a $1.1 billion contract to rebuild and widen Interstate 15 from Lehi to Spanish Fork. In all, the project will cost the state more than $1.7 billion.
It will cost commuters a little time, but for a shorter period than they experienced on the I-15 project in Salt Lake County.
"Yes, it's going to be painful," Provo River project manager Tuhr Barnes said, but the contractors are on a schedule unprecedented for a billion-dollar project in the state. Construction will wrap up in less than three years, by December 2012. Usually a billion-dollar project takes four to five years, Barnes said.
The contractors have pledged to keep most segments flowing with the same number of lanes - sometimes moved to temporary pavement on the sides, sometimes shifted to narrowed lanes on the other side of the freeway divide - during daylight hours.
One exception, though, starts by May and lasts about five months, between University Parkway and Provo's Center Street. There, the three southbound lanes will shrink to two, Utah Department of Transportation project director Dal Hawks said.
Most of next month's work will involve preparations such as grinding down the shoulder rumble strips and adding temporary pavement for planned lane shifts, Hawks said.
Other lane closures could be necessary later, and Barnes said contractors will conduct complete late-night closures at some locations as they work around the clock. Traffic during night closures will be diverted briefly to allow such things as bridge replacements.
Because of the expedited construction schedule, work will occur simultaneously throughout the corridor. The speed limit will drop to 55 mph.
The expected results by late 2012 include at least two new lanes in each direction throughout, plus auxiliary lanes between interchanges around Lehi, Provo-Orem and Springville. The widest part of the freeway will be from Orem to Lehi, with six general-purpose lanes in each direction. The narrowest will be south of Provo, with three in each direction.
Workers will rebuild 10 interchanges and replace or widen 55 bridges. Four of those bridges will get the quick-replacement treatment that UDOT made routine along I-80 during the last few years, with crews building the structures beside the road and then sliding them into place during an hours-long closure.
The contractors have promised to open a completed section from Lehi to Pleasant Grove by June 2012, six months before the parts to the south are complete. That southern section includes about 80 percent of the work, Barnes said.
Gov. Gary Herbert gave a made-for-TV pep rally Monday for some of the men and women who will build the freeway. He addressed about 300 workers at a Thanksgiving Point parking lot after they met and lunched at the Lehi complex to discuss their work plan.
He asked them to stay safe, and to take pride in a job that he said will help secure the Wasatch Front's economic growth.
Everyone hates traffic congestion, he said, but worse still are the jobs that flee urban areas that don't keep pace with travel demand.
"It's not just a quality of life thing," Herbert said.
UDOT has projected that daily traffic past the freeway's most-crowded Utah County points will grow by nearly 100,000 vehicles by 2030, to 238,000. Herbert said the county, in which he once served as county commissioner, likely will grow from its current population of 560,000 to 725,000 in just one decade.
Provo River Constructors will employ 600 people on the project by mid-summer, Barnes said, and about 1,500 by summer 2011.
UDOT will have a more detailed construction schedule within two weeks, Hawks said, and motorists on alert for traffic delays can look for them online at udot.utah.gov
A project hotline is at 1-888-415-2673cq, and text message updates are available for those who text "i15" to 84043. UDOT also plans social media Web sites to discuss the project.