I-80 to close tonight for bridge move, side streets getting crowded

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A fourth major north-south corridor on the Salt Lake valley's east side has just been closed, and the snarling drive along I-80 through Sugar House tonight will get worse.

UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) crews are getting ready to move 700 East bridge into place tonight. They need some elbow room so 1300 East will be closed for the next two hours.

When it comes to the seven new bridges for I-80, 700 East is the big kahuna. It's the biggest bridge of them all, and 1300 East is right in its path. So from 10 o'clock to midnight, a block of that road closes.

For drivers, it gets worse. Late tonight into early tomorrow morning expect I-80 to be down to one lane in each direction. Then the freeway will close entirely for a half hour. It's all to make the big move, a drill UDOT crews have done before.

Adan Carillo, a spokesman for UDOT, said, "Once we move the bridge across 13th East on what used to be the on-ramp from I-80 to 13th East, we're going to rotate it 180 degrees to its final location."

As crews move it into place, drivers are asking themselves, how do we move around? Highland is blocked, so is 900 East, 700 East and now 1300 East.

Congestion is taking a toll on side streets. Traffic from 700 East is going wherever it can because the road is closed for construction.

The road is going to be closed for less than one more week, but people who rely on the major north-south surface street can't help feeling frustrated.

The people guiding the project know this is an inconvenience. They assure us, in spite of clogged side streets, they're trying to make it better.

Usually packed with cars and drivers in a hurry, 700 East is now wide open. The I-80 bridge-replacement project leaves the contractor no choice: The road will stay closed for about four more days.

I-80 to close tonight for bridge move, side streets getting crowded

Not only that, but north-south traffic on 900 East and Highland Drive is shut down too. So, where does all that normal traffic -- more than 40,000 vehicles a day -- go? Anywhere it can.

"Every day I go around and have to find another route. It's something I've been used to for years, and I can't get to it right there," said Jay Mortensen, who lives near the construction.

Jenny Brant, who lives on an alternate route, said, "There's lots of traffic. We've just played in the backyard because it's way too much for him (her son) to be in the front yard."

Side streets like 500 East are picking up the slack. Congestion has come home to people who live there. And rush hour can make 2100 South look like a parking lot.

Believe it or not, there is good news in all this: 700 East will be open next week; the other streets by mid-August.

The contractors on this job are well aware of the effects of closing the road. "UDOT's been told in the past, through polls and such, to get in and get out. And that's the message that's being conveyed to us, is to get in and get out as fast as possible," said Brandon Squire, UDOT's I-80 deputy project manager.

Part of the way they can do that is with accelerated bridge construction. It's more expensive up front, but much quicker. What's being done in seven weeks would take two years the old way.

Even so, traffic can be thick during construction. UDOT says extra signs have gone up warning of detours, and traffic-light timing has been adjusted. "Allowing more people to go through the intersection; the timing of the lights, better signing and information to help people pick alternate routes," said John Montoya, UDOT's I-80 project manager.

Even with all these explanations, this construction will still mean headaches. The best solution: Plan for it.

I-80 should be closed for just about a half hour tonight.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com
E-mail: gkennedy@ksl.com

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Richard Piatt and Gene Kennedy


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