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'Don't want to take any chances': UDOT to remove more I-15 light poles over safety concerns

Traffic moves along I-15 in Lehi on Dec. 16, 2020. The Utah Department of Transportation says 23 more light poles are being removed starting this weekend after one of the 120-foot fell last month and four more were found to be unstable.

Traffic moves along I-15 in Lehi on Dec. 16, 2020. The Utah Department of Transportation says 23 more light poles are being removed starting this weekend after one of the 120-foot fell last month and four more were found to be unstable. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

LEHI — Utah transportation officials say they will remove nearly two dozen light poles on Interstate 15 in the coming weeks after one of the 120-foot poles tumbled onto a busy section of the freeway last month and four others were found to be unstable.

The incident left transportation engineers unsettled and prompted the call to remove the 23 remaining light poles between Main Street in Lehi and state Route 92 as a safety precaution, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason said. That effort, which will begin Sunday, is expected to cause periodic I-15 lane closures in both directions but won't produce as many delays as the emergency closure in December.

"We don't want to take any chances with safety," Gleason said. "So we instructed our contractor to take down all of the remaining poles so we can do a close inspection, find out why it happened, why they failed and how we can prevent it from happening again."

UDOT engineers first became aware of the issue last month when a 120-foot pole crashed onto the freeway by 2100 North in Lehi on Dec. 26, according to the agency. Nobody was hurt and no cars were reportedly struck; however, it did cause immediate issues. Tyson Pickett sent KSL a photo from the scene at the time, which showed the toppled pole blocking all lanes of the freeway while it was still dark outside.

Cars stopped on I-15 in Lehi after a pole fell and blocked all the northbound lanes of the freeway on Dec. 26, 2021. No injuries were reported and four other poles were removed the following day because they were found to be unstable.
Cars stopped on I-15 in Lehi after a pole fell and blocked all the northbound lanes of the freeway on Dec. 26, 2021. No injuries were reported and four other poles were removed the following day because they were found to be unstable. (Photo: Tyson Pickett, iWitness)

Crews removed the pole that day but then found four similar poles were unstable after an inspection. This resulted in an emergency closure of the freeway in both directions that lasted several hours on Dec. 27, as crews removed those poles.

None of the poles were that old. They were all installed as a part of UDOT's I-15 Technology Corridor project just a year or two ago, according to Gleason. It remains unclear as to why one fell and four others became unstable.

But the agency's engineers didn't feel confident that they could continue inspections of the poles while they remain on I-15, so engineers will remove the 23 other poles installed in the area at the time and inspect them away from the busy freeway.

"We want to be confident that they are functioning the way that they should," Gleason said. "This area sees more weather than almost anywhere else in the state — high winds, a lot of precipitation. These poles need to be able to stand up to that. ... We're not comfortable not knowing the answers."

After this Sunday, there will be some lane closures in place in both directions Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and similar closures from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays until the project is complete. UDOT picked those times because they are between normal morning and evening commutes.

It's estimated that crews will be able to remove three poles per day but the effort may last into February, just in case there are any weather issues that would cause any delays during the times of work, Gleason said.

Drivers should prepare for delays of 5 to 10 minutes in the area during the times of work. Gleason said that drivers should also slow down and be mindful of the construction crews in the area.

We're going to try and work as quickly as we can," he added.

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