TOOELE — The Utah Department of Transportation is taking the first step in a long-term project to reduce congestion and plan for future growth in Tooele County.
The Midvalley Highway, which went under construction in September, will connect I-80 with state Route 138 and is the first phase of UDOT’s Tooele County plan. At a projected cost of just under $70 million, the highway will include one lane in each direction for about 4.5 miles.
The project will also include a new interchange on I-80 about 4 miles west of the state Route 36 interchange, and Midvalley Highway will connect with S.R. 138 near Sheep Lane in Erda. The goal, according to UDOT spokesman Courtney Samuel, is to give Tooele County drivers an alternative to S.R. 36.
UDOT estimates that once completed, near the end of 2021, the Midvalley Highway will reduce traffic on S.R. 36 by 20%. Samuel said S.R. 36 currently serves about 45,000 cars a day.
“Geographically, there’s not a lot of options in and out” of Tooele, Samuel explained Thursday. “You’ve got a mountain range and the Great Salt Lake that are in between I-80, and that presents some challenges in terms of building alternative routes for motorists that live in the Tooele County area. There’s just not a lot of real estate.”
He said as the only point of connection between Tooele County and Salt Lake County, I-80 often sees congestion during peak hours.
“Utah is growing in population,” Samuel said, “and that also means traffic is growing.”
Ultimately, UDOT hopes to connect the future Midvalley Highway, or state Route 179, all the way from I-80 to S.R. 36 south of Tooele City. But the funding isn't there to complete the entire vision right away.
“Statewide, there is quite a bit of need for transportation,” Samuel said. “We try to identify projects that are going to be the most cost-effective, as well as effective for motorists and residents within those communities.”
The other end of the future highway will connect to S.R. 138 near Sheep Lane in Erda. UDOT is building this new road to improve transportation and reduce delays in Tooele County, by providing an alternative to S.R. 36 for drivers trying to get to I-80. pic.twitter.com/6Tlp6UMiS3— Utah DOT (@UtahDOT) February 4, 2020
He said the Midvalley Highway project will continue to grow as Tooele County’s needs increase. “Midvalley Highway will be built out as that traffic demand is identified over the years.”
As far as the highway’s late 2021 completion date, Samuel said two years is a slightly longer timeline than normal for building 4.5 miles of highway on generally vacant land. But he said this project requires the extra time because of the condition of the soil in the area.
“The ground is considered wetlands due to the proximity of the Great Salt Lake,” he explained. “That ground needs to be stabilized first, before we can put a road on it. We’re using about 1.5 million tons of dirt to be able to stabilize the ground.”
The Midvalley Highway isn’t the only UDOT project in Tooele County. The agency is also reconstructing three bridges along I-80, two of which Samuel said are over the Union Pacific railroad tracks and commonly called the Blackrock bridges. He said the new bridges will be wider and better able to accommodate peak hour traffic.
“Those bridges … will be wide enough for future travel demand, to add an additional lane” over the current two lanes, he said.
The bridge reconstruction should be finished by the end of 2020 and will cost about $45 million; one of the bridges, on S.R. 36 over I-80, is already complete.
Elsewhere, UDOT will add a third auxiliary lane to westbound I-80 between the state Route 201 ramp and the S.R. 36 interchange. Samuel said construction on that lane will begin this summer and should be completed by the end of the year.
That lane will cost about $3 million, UDOT says. The lane will "improve safety and mobility," Samuel said, not only adding another lane for traffic returning from Salt Lake County, but also making it safer and easier to merge onto I-80 from S.R. 201.
More information about UDOT's Tooele County projects is available at udot.utah.gov/tooelevalley.