1997: A High-Priority Transportation Project is Launched in Utah

April 15, 1997

A groundbreaking ceremony was held to launch the reconstruction of Interstate 15 (I-15) in the vicinity of Salt Lake City. This project, which involved renovating 16.2 miles (26.1 kilometers) of I-15 between 600 North Street in Salt Lake City and 10600 South Street in the city of Sandy, became first major Interstate highway reconstruction effort of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).

Utah Governor Mark Leavitt, as part of the project’s Tuesday afternoon inaugural festivities, removed his suitcoat with a flourish, rolled up his sleeves, and then proclaimed, “Let’s get to work!” He also took time during the ceremony to sign a document called “Approval Order for Interstate 15 Reconstruction” that officially allowed the company Wasatch Constructors to begin work on the project under UDOT’s direction.

As another key part of the ceremony, Leavitt donned a hard hat and orange construction colors. Others putting on the same apparel included Jane Garvey, who was serving at the time as acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Thomas R. Warne, UDOT’s executive director (and AASHTO president in 1999-2000); and Conway Narby, Wasatch Constructors’ manager for the project. All four of them joined other dignitaries in peering through vintage surveying equipment made available for the occasion so that they could each symbolically scan the route for the newly initiated project.

Those other dignitaries on hand for the ceremony included Ellis L. Armstrong, who had served as director of the Utah State Department of Highways (UDOT’s predecessor) in 1957-58. Armstrong’s tenure in that position was comparatively brief. However, his strong leadership in overseeing early construction efforts for the Interstate Highway System in Utah led an impressed President Dwight D. Eisenhower to appoint him U.S. commissioner of public roads. Armstrong served in that federal government position until 1961.

The formal kickoff for the I-15 project received a favorable review in the next day’s edition of the Salt Lake Tribune. “Tuesday’s I-15 fanfare was staged to perfection,” reported that newspaper. “It was held on a remote tiny strip of grass at the west end of the 600 South [Street] off-ramp – a 30-year-old structure due for demolition and reconstruction in the next four years.”

By the time it was completed in 2001, the entire I-15 project encompassed a wide range of improvements that included extensive repaving; the addition of another general-purpose lane and a high-occupancy-vehicles (HOV) lane (along with an auxiliary lane between major interchanges in each direction); and construction of a light-rail system in the median. In addition, approximately 130 local bridges were either reconstructed or newly built. Along with being designed to serve transportation needs in the long term, this renovated segment of I-15 was built to accommodate the heavy traffic that was expected in the region during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

For more information on UDOT’s I-15 reconstruction project, please check out https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ipd/project_profiles/ut_i15_corridor.aspx

Additional information on I-15 is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_15

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