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The Utah Department of Transportation is taking more steps toward slowly converting Bangerter Highway into a freeway in western Salt Lake County.

It announced Wednesday that it has launched an environmental study needed to convert four intersections into freeway-like interchanges, at 5400 South, 7000 South, 9000 South and 11400 South.

Pending the outcome of the study, conversion of those intersections into interchanges is expected to begin next year — and UDOT seeks completion by the fall of 2018.

"These studies are the next step in UDOT's strategic plan to keep traffic moving on Bangerter Highway," said UDOT Project Manager John Montoya.

"The west side of the Salt Lake Valley continues to grow, and we're planning ahead to design interchanges that meet the needs of drivers as well as the nearby communities now and into the future," he said.

Last spring, the Utah Transportation Commission approved combining those four interchanges into one large project in an attempt to speed construction. UDOT previously had proposed to do one conversion a year for four years, which would mean construction on that highway for four straight years.

By combining them into one large project, it also allows some economy of scale — including allowing one large environmental study, which could complete studies more quickly.

UDOT has said that all four interchanges would not be under construction at the same time, but treating them as one large unit allows shorter disruptions. The cost of converting the four intersections at about $196 million, according to UDOT projections.

Next spring, UDOT will also begin construction on a new freeway-style interchange on Bangerter at 600 West in Draper.

The agency has previously completed freeway-like interchanges on Bangerter at 7800 South and at Redwood Road.

These conversions not only speed traffic on Bangerter, UDOT says, but also improve traffic on east-west cross streets.