ST. GEORGE — Plans could be changing for a new interchange at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Bluff Street as the Utah Department of Transportation’s Bluff Street corridor construction project moves forward. The preliminary “jug-handle underpass” design of the Sunset/Bluff intersection has been changed to a design that will be less impactful, according to a UDOT official. This new design is still being finalized and will be on display at a public open house in mid-June.
The Sunset/Bluff intersection is the first of a three-part Bluff Street corridor construction project which will widen a section of mainline Bluff Street and construct new interchanges at St. George and Sunset Boulevards.
The funding for all three parts of the project has been approved, however, only the Sunset intersection phase has been funded so far. Funding for the other projects is expected in the next few years.
The expected total cost of the Sunset/Bluff intersection is $20 million, according to UDOT. That cost includes everything from planning, designing, property acquisition, and of course construction. The costs of all UDOT’s current Southern Utah construction projects can be found here.
Although the start time is not officially scheduled, construction on the redesigned Sunset intersection is expected to begin in January 2015 and should be complete within the year, UDOT region 4 spokesperson Kevin Kitchen said.
The other two parts of the project – Mainline Bluff Street and the St. George Boulevard/Bluff intersection – may be combined since they occur in the same area. However, since they haven’t been funded yet, only preliminary designs have been made, and actual construction isn’t expected to begin until 2018, Kitchen said. This is only an estimated time frame and could change.
Preliminary Designs – as per the Environmental Assessment
In 2012, UDOT and the Federal Highway Administration completed an Environmental Assessment with preliminary plans for the Bluff Street corridor project. These original plans are in various stages of being polished and altered as the process proceeds, Kitchen said. The plans in the Environmental Assessment are basically UDOT’s first suggestion – officially called “selected alternatives” – that can be change just as the “jug-handle underpass” may be.
- Mainline Bluff Street widening – Designed to expand a section of Bluff Street between St. George Boulevard and 500 North – from 5 to 7 traffic lanes.
- Bluff/ St. George Boulevard U-Turn intersection – Because of the topography of the Black Hill, plus high volumes of traffic, and high density of buildings, UDOT’s preliminary design would force all driver’s wanting to turn left at this intersection to drive an extra block and navigate a U-Turn with assistance form new traffic lights, middle lanes, and circular turn-arounds – see graphic below.
- Jug-handle underpass – Being re-designed – new design will be revealed on June 18 at 4 p.m. at the St. George City Council Chambers. Original design was meant to keep traffic free-flowing with no signal lights needed.
This entire project will affect many businesses along Bluff Street. In the preliminary study, called the “Environmental Assessment,” UDOT reports that this construction project would acquire 15 full properties – 29 businesses and 1 residence – along with 44 partial properties.
Although Kitchen said it is too early in the process to give specifics on property relocations, he did say that the property owners have been involved since early in the process and that UDOT has been working closely with them to make sure that no one’s rights are getting trampled. Kitchen said the following details will be available in the future:
- the fair market value of these properties
- which propertyies would be taken
- how much of each property will be affected
“As we get a little closer,” Kitchen said, “we will have a little bit of a better feel for which specific owners and how much of the property we would need.”
He did say that the building on the northeast corner of the Bluff/St. George Boulevard intersection will most likely be taken.
“Virtually everything they looked at ended up taking that corner lot.”
This entire project came under scrutiny by area residents and business owners in a public hearing held in February 2012. Community members shared general displeasure with several things. Among those things were the prospect of area businesses being forced to relocate, the nontraditional design of the U-turn intersection, as well as the impacts a jug-handle underpass would have on the Dixie Red Hills golf course and residents of the Sunstone community near the jug-handle.
Purpose of the Project
According to the Environmental Assessment, the purpose of the project is to improve traffic flow to accommodate future travel demands as far out as 2040 on the Bluff Street Mainline. The need to improve traffic flow is driven by a growing population and travel demand in St. George and its surrounding communities, according to the assessment.
The assessment cited population growth estimates from the Governors Office of Planning and Budget that estimate that the St. George, Santa Clara and Ivins populations will grow by more than 300 percent by 2040. The assessment states that if no improvements are made in this area, an increase in travel demand will lead to failing traffic operations by 2040 on this section of Mainline Bluff Street and the two proposed intersections.
- A public open house on the new Bluff Street overpass design will be held June 18 at 4 p.m. at the St. George City Council Chambers
- The entire Environmental Assessment can be read here
- UDOT’s Bluff Street Corridor website which lists updates on Bluff Street Construction can be found here
- Construction underway on north Bluff ‘fly-over’
- Bluff Street project meeting draws out opposition
- Current, future road projects reviewed, transportation expo
- UDOT, Washington County cities exhibit plans for road, trail, bussing projects; Dixie Regional Transportation Expo 2013
- St. George Boulevard-I-15-Exit 8 diverging diamond interchange now open
- Southern Parkway connections slated for December completion, overall route yet to finish
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