The history of the I-15 CORE project

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His day starts a little earlier now, in fact, much earlier due to the bumper-to-bumper traffic waiting for him on the highway.

Brent Anderson, a recent BYU-Idaho graduate who now lives in Provo, commutes daily from Provo to Salt Lake City where he works as an associate director at Pro Bar.

Before the construction on I-15 began in Utah County, Anderson had little to factor into his commute other than the morning rush hour. Now he leaves, on average, an extra 30 minutes earlier to compensate for the gridlock waiting for him on his way to work.

“You have to deal with it because there’s no other way around it,” Anderson said.

Anderson tried other ways to get to Salt Lake City, but it was never worth it. When he tried State Street, it was jammed and delayed him even more than the interstate did. Detouring to Geneva Road resulted in the same conditions.

Anderson is stuck with commuting on I-15.

In the spring of 2010, the I-15 CORE construction project began from Lehi to Spanish Fork. The project is planned to finish at the end of 2012 with an influx of construction over the summer. Leigh Dethman, public relations manager for the I-15 CORE project, said the aging condition of the interstate and the population growth of Utah County prompted the project idea in 2002.

“Utah County is growing extremely fast and we need to accomodate that growth,” Dethman said.

The Mountainland Association of Governments ran an assessment of I-15 in 2002. They found several signs of wear and tear and the necessity for expansion. I-15 was built in Utah County in the 1960s, and the aging infrastructure and size of the highway aren’t meeting current demands. So the construction began, and within a year one-third of the construction was complete.

The construction hasn’t been exclusive to repairing bridges and other common wear and tear. The plans for the project include the addition of two lanes in both directions, a pedestrian tunnel at Utah Valley University and extending the express lane from University Parkway to Spanish Fork — all aimed at improving the drive through Utah County.

With the projected end of construction in sight, the construction has caused the present to be a hassle. Adriana Westover, a senior from Cross Plains, Wis., studying exercise science at BYU, said her frequent trips to visit family in Eagle Mountain, Sandy and Salt Lake City have become more stressful and dangerous.

“It’s nice that they’re trying to improve safety,” Westover said, “it just feels like there’s a safer way to go about doing it.”

Westover said there have been times when she has driven on I-15 and the lane and exit closures caused others to either drive recklessly or inattentively.

“It’s pretty scary to drive next to a semi or bus that needs to merge soon because their lane is ending,” Westover said.

Westover, who said the construction is necessary, said there could be more productive ways of getting it finished, besides “closing lanes during rush hour.”

Businesses around the county have felt the effects of the construction, both good and bad. Steve Densley, Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce president, said businesses around alternate routes, like State Street, have had good fortune as commuters try to take stay off the interstate. But there is a problem.

“We don’t have a lot of these other roads,” Densley said.

Densley said with less travelers along I-15, business around interchanges has slumped. He said in the past, businesses intentionally set up shop around the interstate.

“Everybody knows that … the corridors are accessible up and down,” Densley said. “But a lot of people don’t even like to go on I-15 if they can avoid it.”

Even though the construction has slowed down some business, the I-15 CORE project and other road projects currently underway or soon to start will keep construction workers within the state employed and stable. However, some think it is not wise to stay under constant construction. Anderson has seen his travel change as construction projects move from road to road.

“It seems like the state of Utah is perpetually under construction,” Anderson said. “Do you think it’s wise to be perpetually under construction?”

As Densley said, drivers regularly avoid the interstate and may try even harder in the summer months, during which more construction is planned.

Andrew Jackson, board member of the Mountainland Association of Governments, said the warmer weather means more orange on the road.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Jackson said. “Now they’ve got to do those things they’ve been putting off for a little bit. There will be pain for a little bit.”

Ramps open and close, lanes get covered in orange barrels and traffic goes slower. It has seemed like an eternity for most, but the construction has been moving more efficiently than most like it around the country.

“This will be the fastest billion dollar project,” Dethman said. “We’re reconstructing 24 miles of highway in just 35 months.”

Densley said with the small number of “other roads” to take commuters from one county to another, drivers might as well grin and bear it.

“Your best bet is to just do what you can and jump on I-15,” Densley said.

For now, Anderson will continue to make his hour long commute to Salt Lake City equipped with a Fast Pass to use in express lanes and audio books and talk radio to “lessen the burden.”

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