Volume 15 | Issue 1 | Year 2012

As the nation becomes more aware of the importance of its infrastructure – and how infrastructure can no longer be taken for granted – the state of Utah is engaged in one of the most ambitious, innovative and proactive infrastructure upgrade projects.
The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is restoring and expanding a portion of the interstate highway (I-15) that runs through its state. The purpose behind the project (called I-15 CORE) is to support economic development via improved transportation.

“The I-15 corridor is a major economic lifeline that moves goods, services and people from north to south and provides access to the east and west freeways that cross the state,” says Dal Hawks, I-15 CORE project manager.

Ultimately, the project will restore infrastructure, address long-term transportation needs and improve the mobility. “The section that the project focuses on is aging,” Hawks points out. “It was built in the early 1960s, in a demanding region characterized by growth and geographic barriers – such the Rocky Mountains and the Great Salt Lake – that can constrain growth. As the section is more than 50 years old, we’ve seen bridge deterioration, as well as increased traffic and economic growth that outpaced the capacity of the existing infrastructure.”

According to Hawks, the project involves a 24-mile stretch that will lead into the heart of Utah County – one of the nation’s fastest growing counties and the second most populated in Utah. It includes 20 percent of the state’s total population.

Besides being ambitious, the project is complex. Indeed, it is the largest road construction project in the state’s history. Specifically, it will:

  • Add two travel lanes in both directions;
  • Rebuild 10 freeway interchanges and replace or restore more than 60 aging bridges (many of which were also built in the 1960s);
  • Use 40-year concrete pavement along the entire corridor.

The project is expected to meet transportation demands through 2030. “We’re talking about a major infrastructure upgrade,” comments Hawks.

The project addresses the most pressing transportation needs. The project team identified various construction scenarios, and it decided to focus on this section, based on current and projected traffic levels, the freeway’s ability to handle the traffic, incident history, the aging of structures, and the costs and potential for cost reduction.

The I-15 CORE upgrade is being built by Provo River Constructors (PRC), a consortium of local, regional and national contractors and engineers. UDOT relates that PRC proposed the greatest value solution for the project within a fixed budget. The joint venture team includes Fluor Corporation, Ames Construction, Inc., Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction Company, and Wadsworth Brothers Construction Company. Each entity boasts significant experience working on large transportation projects in Utah and elsewhere. For this project, UDOT’s I-15 CORE team of experts has oversight and ensures that agreements related to contract provisions, quality, safety, budget and deadlines are met.

The consortium includes more than 30 subcontractors. The team presented innovative ideas to keep traffic moving during this massive reconstruction effort. Indeed, as Hawks relates, in a project of this scope, one of the major challenges is traffic. “We needed to focus on how the project would impact the public, and this involved some creativity to keep the stream moving,” he says. “For the most part, we’ve been very successful in keeping everything flowing through the corridor. That’s one of the things we’re proudest about, as it’s one of the biggest challenges in such a project.”

The project entails an aggressive timeline designed to minimize long-term inconvenience to the public. Construction began in the spring of 2010. Projected completion has been set at December 2012, a date nearly two years ahead of schedule.

A reason for that is the design-build approach. A construction project delivery system, design-build means that design and construction services are contracted by a single entity. The traditional approach has a designer on one side and a contractor on the other. Design-build has a single point of responsibility. In best-case scenarios, this approach lends itself to minimized risks, reduced costs and an accelerated delivery schedule.

“This project is a good demonstration of design-build project delivery strategies,” says Hawks. “With it, we identified what we wanted to build and how to have everything constructed in just over four years.”

Project planning began in 2008. I-15 CORE is funded entirely by the state of Utah. “That’s one of the unique things about this project,” says Hawks. “In the early 1960s, much of the interstate system was built with federal funding. But Utah decided to take on the project without federal funding support. This entailed some strategic financial planning. But the project was determined to be so important to the state that we decided to take it on ourselves. Funding comes through revenue streams created by taxation.”

In March 2009, the governor and state lawmakers approved a $1.725 billion bond to fund the most critical area of I-15 CORE, and the public is very much on board with the effort. “We’ve witnessed great support for the improvement,” says Hawks.

“Whether for business or for recreational use, almost all of the north and south travel will touch I-15 at some point.”

It helps that UDOT has a successful track record on I-15 improvement. “This is the second major project that we’ve done along the corridor,” reveals Hawks. “The first big project upgrading came before the 2002 Winter Olympics.”

That year, the winter games were held in and around Salt Lake City. At the time, the region was the most populous area ever to host the Winter Olympics.

After construction on the new project began in 2010, things proceeded fairly smoothly. “We’re about a year and a half into construction, and we have passed the halfway point,” relates Hawks.

As he indicates, the project is more than 70 percent complete. As far as specifics, so far, construction crews have moved approximately five million tons of dirt and placed more than one million yards of concrete pavement (which averages out to 60,000 to 80,000 yards of fresh concrete a week).

“So we are ahead of schedule for a project that had a very aggressive timeline,” says Hawks. “We were looking at 35 months. To complete so much work in such a short time sets a precedent. But we are right on track for the projected 2012 completion date.”

He adds: “In terms of a major infrastructure project, that’s far more accelerated than the traditional track – so, in this case design/build has been very successful.”

Looking at the larger picture, Hawk describes the project’s impact. The short-term impact, he says, is creation of jobs in the construction industry, at a time when jobs are desperately needed. Through the subcontracting, more than 16,000 people are involved in the project.

“These jobs involve skilled labor, as well as the kind of engineers and technical experts required to complete a large job like this,” he says. “That will have a positive effect on the local economy.”

As far as the longer term impact, he describes the project as a proactive measure. “The traffic flow – the people, goods and services – needs to keep moving through the corridor, and much more freely,” he says. “We can’t let gridlock put the brakes on Utah’s economic development. So, the state’s decision makers have decided to invest now before that happens.”

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