Olympics pushed Utah transportation into efficiency, innovation

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A major concern leading up to the Salt Lake Olympics 10 years ago, was how well everyone would be able to get around from one event to another. Venues were spread across Salt Lake, Park City and down into Utah Valley.

The 2002 Salt Lake Olympics really put the spurs to Utah's transportation network. I-15 had been newly reconstructed, and Trax was already rolling. Planners were nervous: they realized that they could make or break the Games based on how well people could get around. But Director of UDOT John Njord said the Utah Department of Transportation learned critical, lasting lessons from the Olympics.

"Transportation was not going to be the headline story of the Games, and if it was a headline story, it was going to be a bad story," Njord said.

Among other projects, UDOT installed the interchanges at Kimball Junction and Silver Creek in Summit County, in an effort to improve the gateway to Park City.

Njord is UDOT's executive director today, but a decade ago, he was a planning engineer on loan to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. As part of a team that visited the summer Games in Atlanta in 1996, he realized the importance of his assignment.

Transportation was not going to be the headline story of the Games, and if it was a headline story, it was going to be a bad story.

–- John Njord

Thousands drive I-15 daily, making that billion dollar reconstruction - every dime of which came from Utah citizens, Njord is quick to point out -- the biggest project, and UDOT accelerated work to get it done.

"We figured out how to build a $1.59 billion project in 4 1/2 years, which had never been done anywhere in the United States," Njord said.

Njord said that era instilled an ethic of innovation that runs through every project today.

"We can reinvent ourselves and do things differently, more efficiently, in a way that is more acceptable to everyone we're working with," he said.

UTA General Manager Mike Allegra said they knew they could handle transportation better than previous Games held in other cities and that as with our roads, the Olympics would not pay for Trax projects.

"Getting the winter Olympics highlighted the fact that we could use the monies and use them well," Allegra said. "So, it expedited the process of getting the monies, but it wasn't the way that we ended up funding these projects."

UTA finished the Salt Lake/Sandy line two years before the Olympics, and in order to finish the University line by 2002, UTA scaled it down from its original plan to extend to the airport.

Allegra feels that three lasting Olympic legacies for UTA were the characteristics necessary for developing an ever- expanding system, collaborating among agencies, and being able to tackle big projects.

"We recognize from those Games that we can work together and get things done," Allegra said.

Among the transportation projects and venues, another lasting legacy of the games are the artistic panels embedded in bridge structures all across the Wasatch front. The idea came from a contractor who approached UDOT at Kimball Junction during planning.

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Jed Boal


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