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Utah DOT Connects SR 138 to I-80 with Midvalley Highway

by: Larry Bernstein
Concrete work takes place on a section of the Midvalley Highway project in Utah.
Concrete work takes place on a section of the Midvalley Highway project in Utah.
Located 25 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, Tooele County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States. Area growth needs corresponding infrastructure growth to enable locals to move freely. Hence, the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) Midvalley Highway Project.

Tooele County has the Great Salt Lake to the north, the Stansbury Mountains to the west, and the Oquirrh Mountains to the East.

Currently, the county has a population of approximately 60,000. However, more neighborhoods are being built, so the population is expected to grow. Many Tooele County residents work in Salt Lake City/County. Getting to and from the areas is challenging. The only main route that flows in Tooele County is SR 36, and it gets heavily congested.

The state and UDOT have been well aware of the transportation issues in the area and put this project forward as a solution. It will provide commuters better access to the interstate and give them more options. With the construction of the highway, there’s a new connection to I-80 in the middle of Tooele Valley. The Midvalley connects SR 138 to I-80, which leads to Salt Lake County.

The Midvalley highway is a green fill project. The new roadway is a two-lane freeway that runs 4.5 miles. It is the first phase of a long-range plan. The aim is to have the highway run for 18 miles and stretch south to Stockton City. The highway includes a 300-foot bridge that was built near I-80 and the Great Salt Lake.

Flexibility Keeps the Project on Track
Like all projects built during this time frame, the team had to figure out how to proceed despite the pandemic. However, that was not the only challenge. Since the pandemic hit, the area experienced a 5.7 level earthquake. “The earthquake did not damage the construction site, but it did rattle the workforce,” says David Cox, a Resident Engineer for UDOT, who served as the construction manager. Other challenges were related to material shortages and labor shortages.
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Despite these challenges, the team was able to keep the project on track. Cox credits the camaraderie and determination of the team and “lots of partnering with the contractor.

There was lots of give and take and flexibility without sacrificing on essentials.” He also notes there were some design changes and material changes to move the process forward. “We had the attitude of trying to find solutions rather than focusing on issues.”

Regarding the material changes, the team had to bring in a good deal of it via different suppliers to get all they need. With each material change, the team had to test and adapt their approach to compacting it so that all the requirements were met. Every change and contractor question received a quick answer and resolution.

“There was a great deal of collaboration between the whole team,” adds Oanh Le-Spradlin, a Project Manager with UDOT who focuses on design, environmental, and construction. “Everyone’s attitude was to solve problems to get the project done.”

Another challenge was the construction of the bridge. Because the ground was saturated and unstable, the team had to surcharge the ground. The team put in materials, including stable soil to provide weight and settle the ground. Then, they waited 12 months. They expected it to settle up to 5 feet, but instead, it was just 2.5 feet. Le-Spradlin chalks up this difference to an unusually dry year.

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Despite less settlement, the team determined it safe to proceed. So, they removed the surcharge and built the bridge. They used the removed soil as fill throughout the remainder of the project.

Another unique element of the project was the decision to use digital delivery. Paper wasn't used for the entire project. This innovation leads to saving time and money.

Fast and Efficient
Ames Construction served as the prime. They’ve worked with UDOT many times over the years. “They’re very good at moving material and building a roadway, and they know how to compact,” Cox says.

When selecting a contractor, UDOT considers the bid price and length of project delivery.

Construction of the project began in November 2019 and was complete on time in December 2021. One element that contributed to meeting the deadline was the nature of the project. “With a green fill project, you don’t have to fight traffic,” Le-Spradlin says. She also notes the community was supportive and stayed out of the way.

The state paid for the entire $75 million project. Le-Spradlin believes this makes the process faster and more efficient. “If we used federal funds, it would have taken four times longer,” she says. “We use the same process as the federal government, but certain things we can relax and still get the project done and meet all regulations.”

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With the completion of the project, the residents of Tooele County have an alternate route to get to I-80. It cuts down on the congestion on SR 36. Midvalley Highway is an example of UDOT fulfilling its mission to improve quality of life through transportation. It connects communities, adds mobility, and strengthens the local economy.

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