UDOT project would finish converting Bangerter Highway into a freeway. It would also wipe out hundreds of homes.

The transformation of Bangerter Highway is in the homestretch, but the bustling corridor will claim another 241 homes before the work is done.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bangerter Highway at 4100 South on Thursday, June 15, 2023. The Utah Department of Transportation is planning a construction project to turn the highway into a freeway.

West Valley City • When JoAnn and Stan Shober moved to West Valley City in the 1960s, their home faced expansive cornfields — a far cry from the sprawling neighborhoods that have since sprouted up around them.

They’re no strangers, though, to rolling with the changes that come from growth.

In the decades since moving into the home on Carrie Drive, the Shobers — now in their 80s — watched neighbors come and go, the incorporation and subsequent population boom of West Valley City, and those cornfields turn into concrete.

As the area around them grew, construction on Bangerter Highway gobbled up about 20 feet of their property but didn’t upend their lives. This time, they won’t be so lucky.

The Shobers own one of the more than 200 homes that the Utah Department of Transportation wants to demolish to make way for a massive face-lift on the bustling highway.

“[I’m] very sad,” JoAnn Shober said. “We expected to be there for the duration [of our lives].”

UDOT has been working for about a decade to remove traffic lights along the highway and convert intersections into interchanges, with the ultimate goal of transforming the road into a freeway.

Those freeway dreams aren’t far from becoming reality. The Shobers’ home falls within the final section of the highway that needs work — the portion of the corridor that runs from West Valley City’s 4100 South to Salt Lake City’s California Avenue.

What will a freeway entail?

UDOT released an environmental study to turn Bangerter Highway into a freeway-type corridor from West Valley City's 4100 South to Salt Lake City's California Avenue.

If UDOT gets all the funding it needs and the final segment of the highway is built as it is currently proposed, the corridor would include new interchanges at all intersections of the project area, except at 3100 South and 2400 South, according to a recent study.

It would also include an adjacent cycling and pedestrian trail that would extend through the project’s area and include a tunnel at 3500 South to provide safe access to Granger High School.

Removing signals along a high-speed road improves safety, Alex Fisher-Willis, a UDOT project manager, said in an online public meeting. The project would also prevent congestion that is expected to worsen in coming decades.

Many residents, however, will feel the squeeze.

The plan calls for the relocating residents of 241 homes, leveling eight businesses, razing a church and building over a park. Construction would also partially cut into another 125 properties.

Most of the displacement — including all of the home demolitions — would happen in West Valley City.

Fisher-Willis said the impact to residents on this leg of the project is similar to the number of displacements in previous sections of the highway’s reconstruction.

UDOT officials say existing housing market conditions and recent hikes in interest rates will be considered when they buy properties in the affected area.

“The ultimate goal is to get people — if we do have to relocate them — into a similar situation,” Fisher-Willis said. “And a lot of times they end up in a very similar situation, sometimes better because then they’re not next to a busy freeway.”

Home appraisals won’t happen until 2027, when the project is expected to have all of the roughly $1.7 billion it needs to complete construction.

‘It was coming eventually’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bangerter Highway at 4100 South on Thursday, June 15, 2023.

West Valley City Mayor Karen Lang said the upcoming displacement of her residents has long been expected.

“It’s just what we have to do,” she said. “The residents have known for the last 10 [or] 15 years that it was coming eventually.”

Ultimately, the mayor said, the project will benefit residents by helping drivers shave time off their commutes.

“It’s going to be good for the city and for the residents,” she said, “once we get used to the new configurations.”

Construction will start as soon as the funding is secured, Fisher-Willis said, but it is still unclear where work will start along the final stretch of roadway.

It’s also unclear how long it will take to finish the highway’s transformation, but past intersection overhauls along the corridor have taken about a year and a half to two years to finish. For this portion of the project, construction may occur at multiple intersections simultaneously.

Fisher-Willis acknowledged many residents would face hardship but said the finished product would benefit the entire Salt Lake Valley.

Painful but necessary?

Many West Valley City residents see the makeover of Bangerter Highway as a necessity, even if its impacts on neighborhoods are vast. Stan Shober is among them.

“A lot of people are upset about what’s happening,” he said, “but I think it would be good.”

That sentiment doesn’t fly with JoAnn Shober, though.

“We have to move,” she fired back at her husband. “Do you remember that part?”

Although the project appears to be on track, JoAnn Shober hopes UDOT won’t be able to get the resources it needs to complete the roadwork.

If that doesn’t happen, however, she hopes a place goes up for sale in her neighborhood so she can at least be near the house she has called home for decades.

“We want to stay right in our area,” she said. “We love West Valley, and we know all the people. If we could move across the street, we would.”

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.