LAYTON — Apparently, tearing up a highway at the base of a mountain range is a difficult proposition.
The Utah Department of Transportation has run into some rather significant delays with the ongoing reconstruction of U.S. Highway 89 through northern Davis County. Officials from the department say several factors are contributing, but none bigger than the terrain.
As part of the $490 million reconstruction, crews are widening the highway from four lanes to six, between Farmington and State Route 193 in Layton. Signalized cross-street intersections will be 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. According to UDOT’s environmental study on the project, the road is currently operating at failing conditions and, by 2040, the department figures average daily traffic there will increase by 40%.
UDOT began preparing for the project in 2019 with utility relocations and started mainline construction work in April of this year.
Project Manager Randy Jefferies said work thus far on the nearly 100-year-old highway has resulted in some early surprises.
“This project is having quite a few challenges on it,” Jefferies said. “We’re right on the foothills of the mountains here and between all of the geotechnical exploration that’s going on, we’re finding all sorts of things. We did a lot of investigation during design, but we’re still finding a lot of surprises out there.”
The state has uncovered several enormous rocks under the highway, which take time and manpower to remove. Jefferies said while the composition of the Wasatch Mountains is giving crews some headaches, so is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 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 reconstruction is finished. Jefferies said in most cases, the state must work in tandem with third party organizations to relocate that infrastructure.
“(Utility relocation) is always a challenge, but especially right now with COVID,” Jefferies said. “(Because of the virus) we have several of those third parties that are limited somewhat in their resources, limited in their ability to be on the project.”
And Jefferies said the windstorm during the first week of September caused Rocky Mountain Power to pull off of the project for a few weeks.
UDOT has also implemented strict social distancing measures at the construction site, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The department has reduced or eliminated in-person meetings, discouraged carpools and shared vehicle use and made it mandatory to wipe down tools and disinfect surfaces in vehicles.
“We are starting to see some delays,” Jefferies said of the seemingly perfect storm of circumstances.
UDOT Senior Communications Manager Zach Whitney said the project is scheduled to conclude sometime in 2023, an intentionally vague time frame allowing for the same kind of contingencies being seen on U.S. 89 now. As of now, the state is still shooting for a 2023 completion.
“We build some time in the schedule for this kind of thing,” Whitney said. “These (delays) are a little more than we expected, but we have quite a bit of time to make it up.”