US 89/I-84 interchange focus for UDOT; timing, funding questions still unanswered
SOUTH WEBER — The nearly completed upgrade of U.S. 89 through northern Davis County may allow for smoother, less stop-and-go traffic along the new section getting attention.
Reach the northern endpoint of the improved road section on the periphery of South Weber and Uintah, though, and the story changes.
Northbound motorists will “travel along 89 at a quick speed, but they’ll still come to an abrupt end,” said South Weber Mayor Rod Westbroek. That is, they’ll reach the congested U.S. 89-Interstate 84 interchange, where both northbound and southbound traffic backs up at peak travel times as autos jockey to get on and off the two roadways and motorists contend with two stop lights.
With that in mind and in light of expected increases in auto traffic, Utah Department of Transportation officials are taking another look at possible fixes to improve flow in and around the interchange to ease the congestion. They’re currently inviting, collecting and assessing feedback to get a gauge of potential impacts on the surrounding communities if the road configuration in the zone is to be improved. The comment period runs through Feb. 2.
“I think it’s long overdue to get a new interchange in there,” Westbroek said.
At any rate, any upgrade will undoubtedly be a complicated and expensive undertaking, and even if the process keeps edging forward, the timing still has to be sorted out. Funding — perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars — also needs to be secured. UDOT estimates from a study completed in 2018 put the price of upgrading the interchange at $270 million to $670 million, depending on the configuration.
Significantly, roads officials also have to pinpoint an upgrade design that’s acceptable to the public — or most of the public, at least.
“No estimated costs yet. We still have several phases of the study to go through. We’re hoping to finish the study by the end of 2023,” UDOT spokesperson Mitch Shaw said. “We have $60 million available that we can use right now. Depending on the outcome of the study though, the project could require additional funding.”
To be sure, leaders of three of the cities closest to the interchange — South Weber in Davis County and Uintah and South Ogden in Weber County — acknowledge the need for change.
“It gets really congested in the afternoon,” Uintah Mayor Gordon Cutler said.
The interchange needs improvement “and the sooner the better,” Westbroek said.
Aside from funding, though, complicated questions are at play. How do you smooth traffic flow between U.S. 89 and I-84 and, in the process, make sure the three cities aren’t cut off, that they remain accessible?
Cutler, for one, says one of his big concerns is assuring convenient east-west traffic flow along 6600 South, a local Uintah road that cuts across U.S. 89 north of the I-84 interchange. A traffic light regulates auto flow at the intersection, which can contribute to congestion in the area at peak travel times.
South Ogden Mayor Russell Porter focuses on assuring access between U.S. 89 and Skyline Drive northwest along U.S. 89 from the I-84 interchange. UDOT’s study area extends along U.S. 89 northwesterly from I-84 to Harrison Boulevard in South Ogden. Several businesses are accessible via Skyline Drive at U.S. 89 and Porter doesn’t want to see an upgrade configuration that eliminates Skyline Drive access to U.S. 89 in the name of improved traffic flow.
“We don’t want it to hurt our businesses down there,” he said. A traffic light currently regulates flow at the U.S. 89-Skyline Drive crossing.
UDOT, for its part, aims to strike a balance.
The agency’s goal “is to improve traffic flow but also to improve connectivity between communities in the area, develop options for multimodal users and improve safety,” Shaw said. He went on: “We look at things like land use, air quality, noise, impacts to historic properties, wildlife, wetlands and floodplains, etc.”
Beyond the considerations brought up by the public, there are two unmovable railroad bridges and a pipeline cutting across U.S. 89 in Uintah to factor in any redesign, as well as the Weber River winding along I-84 in the zone. Indeed, the road upgrade configurations UDOT put forward in its 2018 study are elaborate and complex.
The “east bypass” alternative put forward had an estimated price tag at the time of $670 million. It would entail moving the ramp system to travel between U.S. 89 and I-84 east of the current interchange. U.S. 89 in its current configuration would remain, hauling local traffic.
The “center bypass” option had an estimated price tag of $270 million and proposed creating a frontage road and bypass system along the current U.S. 89 corridor. “This alternative utilizes a bypass road which runs in the center of a frontage road system. The bypass road allows for uninterrupted traffic flow on U.S. 89 through the interchange and Uintah City,” a UDOT explanation of the proposal reads.
Additional elements in the 2018 study outline possible changes to the U.S. 89-Skyline Drive intersection that would cost an additional $62 million to $75 million.
Scoping materials UDOT presented to the public at a Jan. 10 meeting indicate that if the U.S. 89/I-84 interchange is improved, traffic congestion would shift further north to the U.S. 89-Harrison Boulevard intersection, necessitating change there. To address that, UDOT puts forward creation of a “flyover” for southbound Harrison Boulevard traffic wanting to continue south on U.S. 89 as a possible fix.
For now, though, things are in the very preliminary stage. After completing the draft study later this year, called an environmental assessment, UDOT will seek more feedback and hold a public hearing.
“We then incorporate any comments into the document and publish a final version, which solidifies the path forward,” Shaw said. “Then we seek funding if we need more money and get the project on the books for construction.”