A recently completed freeway project in Washington County has provided important travel and safety improvements for road users who drive the mountainous region.
Between the Black Ridge Mountains north of St. George to the Iron County line, I-15 is characterized by steep climbs and wildlife crossing the freeway. The important commerce and recreation corridor carries UDOT Region Four’s highest traffic volume with 25,000 vehicles a day, including 5,000 trucks, moving in both directions. A project to build new climbing lanes and install extensive wildlife fencing reached substantial completion in late September and UDOT has already received some positive feedback on the improvements.
Utah State Troopers noticed better traffic mobility right away, and called to tell UDOT Station Supervisor Todd Abbott. “They think it’s far out.” Abbot has been in touch with Point of Entry workers too, who indicate that local and interstate freight carriers are happy about the new lane too.
All road users are inconvenienced by travel delay, which also has an associated cost. But the extra lane offers the most noticeable benefit to passenger vehicles – “what an improvement, to get up the mountain from St. George to Cedar and not get behind two semis,” says UDOT Project Manager Scott Goodwin. Before the project, traffic on the two lane-north bound side of I-15 could be sluggish during peak travel times.
Goodwin managed Region Four’s first Design Build with the Black Ridge project. Anticipating the new lane would be built on the outside of the freeway, Goodwin was surprised when the contractor proposed building the entire project in the median. “It required more help from geo-tech – Jim Higbee was very involved,” says Goodwin. “It turned out to be a really nice project,” with the added lane and 12 feet of maintenance area between the mountain and new barrier. ATMS conduit and cable was installed through the project and south of the project, in an area improved two years ago.
UDOT works with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to identify appropriate improvements that work for wildlife. Bruce Bonebreak, UDWR Habitat Manager appreciates the efforts to make interchanges, box culverts and other freeway areas more wildlife friendly. “This deer herd has suffered a lot in recent years from highway mortality when they try to access the winter ranges,” says Bonebreak. UDOT “has done a very commendable job” of working with UDWR.
Wildlife fencing was installed along both sides of I-15 from the lower part of the Black Ridge to the overpass west of Kanarraville, providing protection for over 12 miles of freeway. “This area has long been plagued with high numbers of collisions between vehicles and deer, particularly during the late fall to early spring period,” according to Randall Taylor, UDOT Resident Engineer. “At freeway speeds collisions are serious. Car parts and the carnage of deer carcasses along I-15 resulted in pleas for help from local residents.”
I-15 adjoins 2500 acres of land owned by the Indian Peaks and Cedar Bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the Tribe also has an interest in reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions. Tribal efforts include improving plant life on the east side of the freeway to provide food for animals so hopefully, fewer try to cross. “If we can improve habitat on the east side of the freeway, it will not only save deer and elk, but also people,” says Gaylord Robb with the tribal office. Robb has secured a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will provide additional fencing with an upcoming UDOT project.
The Black Ridge to Iron County project is the most in an ongoing effort to improve safety and traffic mobility on I-15 from the Arizona State line through Utah. Project Manager Scott Goodwin talks about taking on UDOT Region Four’s first Design Build with this project in a previous post.