Transportation • The massive rebuild is ending, but orange cones will return farther south in the spring.
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Spanish Fork • Just as all lanes on Interstate 15 in Utah County opened permanently this week after a massive three-year rebuilding project, officials signaled that drivers should not grow too accustomed to the absence of orange construction cones.
More widening and maintenance on I-15 will return next spring extending south to Payson from Spanish Fork, where the current 24-mile-long reconstruction from Lehi just ended, the Utah Transportation Commission was told Friday.
Shane Marshall, director of the Utah Department of Transportation's Region 3, said that stretch will be widened from the current two lanes to three in each direction. UDOT plans to add the new lanes in what is now a wide median.
UDOT plans to keep two lanes open in each direction during daytime hours while crews work on the $32 million project but some nighttime closures are expected. That project will go to bid soon.
Besides just the widening, the commission on Friday also approved adding another $4 million to mill and overlay pavement on the existing lanes in that stretch. That work had been planned in the future but was moved up to occur at the same time as the widening to minimize overall disruptions.
As the commission approved such future work, it also took time to praise UDOT and its contractor, Provo River Constructors, for the current rebuilding project.
Commission Chairman Jeffrey Holt noted the project had an overall budget of $1.73 billion including land acquisition costs and came in $230 million under budget. Its expected formal completion next month although all lanes opened a bit early this week is also two years earlier than originally expected before bidding began.
Holt praised the project for managing to keep most lanes open most of the time during what UDOT says was the fastest $1 billion highway project ever built in America. "It's hard to operate on a major artery while the heart is still beating. It was a fantastic effort," Holt said.
UDOT Executive Director John Njord said contractors were able to speed construction by doing such things as bringing in more massive concrete-paving machines than they actually had crews to operate. That allowed crews to move instantly to pave once section after another, instead of spending days to take apart, move and set up machines.
"That shaved months off their program," Njord said.
Commissioner Kent Millington, who teaches at Utah Valley University, said that as the orange barrels disappeared this week and all lanes opened, he had numerous commuters tell him, "I can't believe how simple this commute has become now."
UDOT has started running ads in Utah County movie theaters and football games proclaiming that "the end is here" with the project, celebrating how it rebuilt 10 freeway interchanges, added two lanes in each direction and added, rebuilt or modified 63 bridges.
Njord said he was at a football game where "the end is here" message played, "and it received the loudest cheer of the night" from drivers tired of the construction.
Of course, the project faced plenty of controversy after revelations that UDOT quietly paid a losing bidder $13 million after the company contended it was robbed of the $1.1 billion construction contract by one point after state adjustments in bid scoring. The contract went instead to a consortium that had donated $82,500 to Gov. Gary Herbert.
One of the reasons UDOT said it adjusted scoring was to reward a plan that would keep more lanes open more of the time during construction.
Audits later found no wrongdoing or political pressure by UDOT and Herbert over the bid, but auditors said they couldn't determine whether the bid process and settlement payment were fair because of a lack of documentation.
That audit also criticized UDOT for not concealing identities of the bidders, providing misleading information to one bidder about how proposals would be evaluated and for including on the UDOT evaluation team someone married to an employee of one of the bidding contractors.