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Brent and Darren Menlove, owners of the KOA Kampground on North Temple, say their business dwindled by more than 20 percent since the North Temple viaduct closed 16 months ago. They say tourists drawn to Temple Square downtown could not easily find their way to the camp.

"It's been like a war zone," Darren Menlove said about confusing detours caused by bridge and road construction. "We call it bombed-out Beirut," Brent Menlove added.

But they smiled widely as they marched up the rebuilt viaduct on Wednesday with a brass band and a couple hundred other west-side business owners, residents and government officials for ceremonies that opened the rebuilt bridge to cars and pedestrians two months ahead of schedule and under the $71 million budget.

"Opening the bridge will make it much easier to go from downtown to the west side," said Peter Funaro, a manager of Diamond Lil's restaurant and son of its owner. "We've lost like half of our business since the bridge closed. It's great that it's reopening, but we still have a lot of construction left on the road."

Much of North Temple is still narrowed to one lane in each direction as the Utah Transit Authority continues construction on a $350 million, six-mile extension of TRAX lines to Salt Lake City International Airport from the Arena station downtown. It is expected to be completed in 2013.

UTA originally planned to build a TRAX-only bridge across west-side rail yards. But the old North Temple viaduct for vehicles was nearing the end of its lifespan, so officials decided to build a new joint-use bridge. The old viaduct stretched from 300 West to 600 West. The new bridge is a block shorter, stretching between 400 West and 600 West.

TRAX portions of the bridge are not yet finished and construction will continue on them, but portions allowing vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic are complete. Eventually, a TRAX station will be built atop the bridge, a FrontRunner commuter rail station will be built beneath it, and transfers between the two will be allowed via escalators.

"It's like Christmas for us," said Clark Caras, executive director of the Utah State Fairpark. The sooner-than-expected opening of the bridge will help the State Fair during its Sept. 8-18 run. "It's wonderful timing for us. This reconnects us to downtown. There's still construction along North Temple, but at least you can use the road to get downtown."

Bill Coker, owner of the Red Iguana restaurant, said loss of the viaduct cut into his lunchtime business because customers downtown could not easily get to him. "But we're doing OK. We have a solid customer base that stayed with us," he said. "We're trying to support and help others around us."

Gordon Storrs, chairman of the Fairpark Community Council, said some North Temple businesses did not survive. He said that included a video rental store, a Greek restaurant and a golf supply business.

"But long-term, this will make our neighborhood vibrant and connect us with the rest of the city," he said. "For me personally, finishing this bridge is great. It means I can drive downtown now without waiting for trains at crossings."

Bill Knowles, Downtown Rising Ombudsman for North Temple businesses, said, "This bridge will be a connector and not a divider east to west like the old viaduct. With the TRAX station on top, and the FrontRunner down below, the bicycle lane, the complete pedestrian crossing where the other one didn't have that, it's going to be a whole new ball game as far as people on the west side are concerned."

Mayor Ralph Becker said North Temple will soon become the longest "complete street" in the city, meaning it will handle "all forms of transportation" including TRAX, vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

UTA General Manger Michael Allegra urged residents to keep shopping at North Temple businesses, and said access will be provided to all of them during the ongoing TRAX construction. Several businesses are also having "construction specials" this week for people who wear "Shop North Temple, I Do" buttons available at some businesses and the city library.

"We still have two more years of construction left, so we will continue to face challenges. But traffic can now travel to the west side of North Temple, and that will have a huge impact for businesses. More importantly, we won't have to wait for trains any longer," said David Galvan, representing the North Temple Community Advisory Committee at ceremonies. —

New viaduct

The rebuilt North Temple viaduct stretches 1,480 feet between 400 West and 600 West, and is a block shorter than the viaduct it replaces. Lanes for vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles are complete now.

Still under construction are TRAX tracks. Eventually, the bridge will have a TRAX station on top, a FrontRunner commuter rail station below, and escalators to allow transfers between them. It contains 4.2 million pounds of structural steel.