LAYTON — After decades of study and preparation, work on the transportation department’s massive reconstruction of U.S. 89 in Davis and Weber counties is scheduled to start this week.
And if a lawsuit and a mid-plan overhaul of the roadway’s design weren’t big enough monkey wrenches hurled at the long-awaited project, the state is now forced to adjust construction activities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Utah Department of Transportation Senior Communications Manager Zach Whitney said mainline work on the $489 million U.S. 89 project will start this week. Utility relocations and other preparatory construction work has been ongoing for several months now. There are 35 different utility owners on or next to the highway and the project team will relocate over 150 miles of utilities before the project is finished.
As part of the project, UDOT will widen the increasingly congested highway from four lanes to six, with signalized cross-street intersections eliminated and new interchanges added at 200 North in Kaysville, 400 North in Fruit Heights and at Oak Hills Drive, Gordon Avenue and Antelope Drive in Layton. The state will also build two overpasses, crossing over Nicholls Road in Fruit Heights and Crestwood Road in Kaysville. The plan also includes new side roads, pedestrian bridges, a multi-use trail and bicycle improvements.
UDOT spokesman John Gleason said construction is scheduled to be finished sometime in 2023.
The plan to rebuild the stretch of U.S. 89 has been discussed for more than 20 years, said UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras, with an initial environmental review first being completed in 1996.
“This is a project we’ve actually been working on since the mid-90s,” Braceras said.
The project was finally given the go-ahead in 2017, but last year, the transportation department announced that the rebuilt highway would pass under nearby cross streets instead of over them. The significant change in design came after public feedback the state received during the project’s State Environmental Study and from input from the project’s design builder, Oak Hills Constructors.
The reconstruction of U.S. 89 was initially scheduled to start in 2019 but was delayed in part by a lawsuit. In April 2018, a grassroots group called “Residents’ Voices United on 89” filed the suit in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake County, asking the court to rule UDOT’s State Environmental Study on the project invalid and thereby halting construction on the project until another environmental review, conducted under National Environmental Policy Act requirements.
While those roadblocks have since been cleared, the pandemic has presented a new set of challenges. Whitney said the state’s goal is to balance the health and safety of construction employees while meeting the needs of the traveling public, which means pushing forward with the project. UDOT believes the outdoor environment in which the work will occur, the relative ease of socially distancing construction workers, along with other proactive controls, will help ensure a safe work site.
Braceras said transportation is vital in providing essential goods and services during what are now uncertain times. He said road work will be a major part of the state’s economic recovery in the coming months.
“If you’ve gone to the grocery stores recently, you’ve probably noticed that the shelves are not as stocked as they normally are,” he said. “That really highlights the importance of the logistics of providing all the services that we just assume are there every day. These construction jobs are deemed essential in order to keep Utah moving.”
But Braceras said work won’t happen as it normally does. He said the state will implement strict social distancing measures, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The department has reduced or eliminated in-person meetings at construction sites, discouraged carpools and shared vehicle use and made it mandatory to wipe down tools and disinfect surfaces in vehicles. Managers will monitor compliance at construction sites and in offices.
U.S. 89 Project Manager Michael Romero said there is some concern about necessary supplies being delivered in a timely manner, amid the pandemic. While the department doesn’t yet know exactly how things will play out, in terms of getting work finished under normal time frames, Braceras said construction crews will be flexible and adapt when necessary.
“It would be a little naive of us to think that the current situation that we’re all dealing with right would not have an impact on the program we’re delivering,” Braceras said. “Every day we’re dealing with situations that come up.”