ST. GEORGE — The nearly yearlong reconstruction of the northern end of the Bluff Street corridor officially came to an end Wednesday afternoon with a ribbon-cutting at the Sandtown Park.
State and local road planners, along with civic officials and others, gathered at the park to celebrate the end of a project that, according to the Utah Department of Transportation, finished ahead of schedule and under budget.
“We have an early Christmas gift,” Naghi Zeenati, chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission, said.
The project was originally estimated to cost $42 million and be completed by February 2019. It started in January and was largely finished by the end of November and has cost $32 million as of Nov. 30, Zeenati said.
And just what did St. George get for a nearly a year’s worth of construction on one of its busiest roadways?
On the surface, an additional lane in each direction and the inclusion of wider shoulders between 100 South and Sunset Boulevard that will provide more capacity and mobility. A tunnel was built beneath Bluff Street that provides safer connectivity between Bluff Street and Sunset Boulevard for pedestrians and cyclists.
“It will be a benefit for locals and visitors alike who try to cross at Sunset,” said Danielle Larkin, of the Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance. She and others praised UDOT road planners for collaborating with the alliance, local officials and the community.
They listened to feedback and rolled it into their designs, Larkin said.
Below the surface, several significant utility upgrades will provide decades of service to St. George, including a new storm drain system on this segment of Bluff Street aligned for future storm drain expansion.
“I know everyone is grateful to see (Bluff Street) opened up,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said. “It’s really going to make a huge difference.”
Upgrading Bluff Street had been on UDOT’s to-do list for years. The department oversaw the project because the road is a part of state Route 18.
UDOT worked with local officials and members of the community to determine which road configurations would work best for the area, particularly at the Bluff Street-Sunset Boulevard intersection.
One proposal, a jug-handle configuration that would have claimed a portion of the Red Hills golf course, was scrapped in 2014 in favor of another design that would also ultimately be replaced and refined later on.
“Collaboration was very important on this job,” Rick Torgerson, director of UDOT’s Region 4, said at the ribbon-cutting.
A part of the Bluff Street project involved buying up properties along the roadway that needed to be removed to widen the road. This resulted in the demolition of buildings and relocation of several businesses.
As for the businesses that remained, many struggled with lost business, despite signs lining Bluff Street that they were open for business.
Northern Bluff Street, specifically between Sunset and St. George boulevards, is considered a part of an overall east-west corridor that starts at the Interstate 15-St. George Boulevard interchange and runs west to Sunset Boulevard and SR-18. Those roads connect the western and northern parts of the county to St. George and I-15.
“This is one of the busiest (traffic) corridors,” Torgerson said, and it will only get busier with growth.
Road planners said Bluff Street needed to be upgraded to handle increased traffic due to rising population projections over the next 20-40 years.
Bluff Street currently carries over 44,000 vehicles every day, with that number expected to climb to 65,000 by 2040 as the population climbs from over 150,000 to around 321,000.
While the Bluff Street project has concluded, Pike said the southern end of Bluff Street toward I-15 could be reconstructed in a similar manner in the next five or 10 years.
The city is also involved in a study to determine whether a future highway interchange in the area of 700 South is feasible, he said.
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