Refurbishing the water line that runs through Ogden Canyon has impacted residents and visitors this winter who use the route daily for work and recreation. SR-39 is narrow, and construction crews have faced a lot of unusual constraints. With only two lanes of traffic, and one lane receiving the installation of a 24-inch water line, travel is cumbersome at best and any feasible alternate routes are inconvenient. There is a reason this project has been put off for more than a hundred years; it is a major challenge.
Unfortunately we could no longer put off the project, as estimates showed we were losing about a million gallons of water daily from the existing pipe. Inspections of the pipe removed so far have verified these estimates and make it apparent this replacement needed to occur. Nevertheless, we knew that in order to get this project done we would pose a great inconvenience to a large number of people who travel the canyon.
The city hired a public involvement consultant to help coordinate with affected residents—something that has not been done on any of the $51 million worth of projects recently completed by Ogden city’s bond offerings. The city’s main efforts have been in limiting the impact to residents and business partners in Ogden Valley and Ogden Canyon. We are grateful the majority of residents affected have been gracious and understanding. However there are some things that the city is trying to improve on, mainly the availability of information. Our hope is that this letter can answer some questions.
• Timing: The most frequent question we receive is why we are undertaking this project in the winter. If there were any other options we would take them. Unfortunately the line we are replacing is needed during the warmer months, typically June through November. In order to meet the consumption needs of Ogden city we can only perform this work in the winter. These are harsh conditions for the workers and their equipment, and we have no feasible alternative.
• Schedule: We are also asked why the project has been moving so slowly. The beginning of the project was challenging. The record cold temperatures made equipment start up times longer and breakdowns more frequent. The frost layer was in excess of three feet at times, and although there is equipment available to handle frost such as frost buckets for backhoes, frost still slows our progress. Compounding the problem was that once crews made it through the frost layer they were dealing with solid rock. The night closures resulted from unforeseeable underground conditions and were something we tried mightily to avoid.
During the last month conditions improved significantly. The frost is less of an issue but the most important change has been soil conditions. Although rock outcroppings are still present, the majority of the alignment has been in manageable soil conditions. This has allowed us to average about 200 feet of pipe installed a day. So even with the slow start, the project is only about five days behind our June 1 deadline. A second night crew will start in the coming month to help overcome this and hopefully get ahead of the deadline.
• Traffic delays: Traffic-related questions have also been frequent. Unfortunately we do not have the infrastructure in place to give real time travel estimates like the types you see on I-15. We have been utilizing the project website and Twitter to broadcast delay notifications. Additionally there are many personnel related to the project who live in Ogden Valley. We have been getting daily feedback from them on travel times. We have recently started logging these times and tweeting them on the city’s Twitter feed. Additionally two water utility employees who are on light duty will be driving and logging times in the canyon seven days a week.
Delays in the canyon occur for a number of reasons. A major problem is drivers not obeying traffic control devices. This throws off the timing of the lights. Emergency vehicles responding in the canyon are given priority and can also cause queues to miss a cycle or two. A barricade was pushed off the road by a motorist and this resulted in the communication cable between the two lights getting damaged. Stalled vehicles have occasionally resulted in extra cycles. Snow downed a communication line that caused a delay. Accidents have caused delays. The majority of the delays experienced during construction are not within the control of the contractor. However, we are working to improve on getting the word out when these delays occur.
Whitaker Construction has been flexible and accommodating, not unlike any contractor the city has worked with. All those involved are concerned about the negative impacts being felt by the community. Meetings are held weekly and conversations occur daily to ensure we are doing everything possible to mitigate possible issues. The patience of the residents and travelers in the canyon is greatly appreciated.
Please be aware of the most up to date sources of information for this project. The project website is www.ogdencanyonh2o.com. The project’s Twitter feed is @ogdencanyonh2o. Please feel free to email us at email@example.com with any questions or suggestions. Or you can call the hotline at 801-675-8198. We are committed to adapting to travelers’ concerns while staying within the constraints of the project.
Kenton Moffett, P.E. is the water utility manager for Ogden.