ST. GEORGE — A highway interchange proposed for 700 South is on hold due to financial constraints, according to an environmental assessment released last month by the Utah Department of Transportation.
Despite the postponement, UDOT will move ahead with widening Interstate 15 between St. George Boulevard and Bluff Street.
The environmental assessment, released in late October on the I-15 St. George Improved website, found the widening of I-15 between mile markers 6 and 8 and the accompanying 700 South interchange would have no major negative impact on the area.
Construction is expected to start sometime in 2025 and take 18 months to two years to complete.
The study also pronounced the preferred design for the proposed 700 South interchange, which is similar in design to how the Green Springs/Exit 10 interchange in Washington City will function.
The widening of I-15 through St. George will add one northbound and one southbound lane between Bluff Street/Exit 6 and St. George Boulevard/Exit 8. Like the widening work currently in Washington City, the new lanes will be added where the median currently exists.
With the rollout of the environmental assessment, the process now moves to putting together designs for the project with a call for contractor bids likely going out near the end of 2024, said Kim Manwill, UDOT’s project manager for southwest Utah.
While it could take up to two years to complete the widening project, that timetable will depend on how well traffic moves through the construction zone, Manwill added.
On southbound I-15 moving through Washington City as work is being done on widening the highway and the building of a new interchange, Washington City, Utah, Oct. 23, 2023 | Photo submitted, St. George News
Elements of the project involve the creation of two new retention ponds for drainage along the highway and infrastructure ready to connect to the 700 South interchange once that project is underway. Factored into the project is the highway work necessary to ready potential underpasses to improve east-west connectivity in downtown St. George.
The current estimated cost of the project is $94 million.
The potential for new underpasses will be a separate project. Funding for this project is being pursued through a federal grant application submitted by the city of St. George and UDOT.
Road planners won’t know if the potential underpass project will be granted funding until sometime in December, Manwill said.
700 South interchange
While there have been rumors that the 700 South interchange project was dead, the reality is that it has been postponed for now due to insufficient funding.
UDOT managed to allocate nearly $69 million for the overall project, which is estimated to run $112 million, according to the Finding of No Significant Impact letter released alongside the environmental assessment.
“UDOT may construct some of the pedestrian improvements on 700 South in Phase 1, pending available funding,” the letter reads. “The on- and off-ramps, widening 700 South, and any other elements not constructed in Phase 1 will occur in a later phase, yet to be determined.”
However long the pause on the 700 South interchange lasts will depend on local circumstances, Manwill said.
“It’s a need and growth item,” he said, adding that that determination will correspond with the judgment of regional road planners with the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The Dixie MPO outlines a majority of Washington County’s present and future transportation needs. They often work hand-in-hand with UDOT and local governments to move these plans along.
Declared purpose and need
A primary purpose of the interchange is to alleviate traffic congestion at the Bluff Street and St. George Boulevard interchanges that are projected to grow progressively worse by 2050, according to UDOT. It is also touted as a way to increase access to regional destinations in that part of St. George and improve mobility options for various parties like pedestrians and cyclists.
The needs for the proposed interchange is based on the following points also presented by UDOT:
Excessive delays at the St. George Boulevard and Bluff Street Interchanges lead to off-ramp queues at all but the Bluff Street southbound off-ramp extending onto mainline I-15, resulting in unsafe travel conditions.
Longer travel times via I-15 from origin points north and south of St. George City to regional destinations in St. George City due to excessive delays at the St. George Boulevard and Bluff Street interchanges.
Limited east-west active transportation routes in the Proposed Action area. I-15 is a barrier that separates residents east of I-15 from popular destinations to the west. Current crossings under I-15 are limited to 700 South and a pedestrian tunnel at 400 South.
There is a possibility the building of the interchange could be further postponed if the widening of I-15 alone is somehow able to help decrease traffic issues in that area, Kevin Kitchen, a spokesman for UDOT, told St. George News.
Appreciation for public input
Both Kitchen and Manwill expressed appreciation for the input shared by the public during the project’s scoping period.
In this file photo, residents and property owners in downtown St. George living near the 700 Sound underpass gather at a UDOT-hosted open house to learn more about proposed designs for an interchange state road planners want to build on I-15 at 700 South, St. George, Utah, Nov. 16, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
UDOT held in-person and online open house meetings in May and November 2022 and in May of this year. The November open house wasn’t originally a part of the process yet was spurred on by the mass of comments UDOT officials received.
UDOT took in nearly 250 comments, which was noted by agency officials as being among the most they had ever received concerning a transportation project.
Concerns from the public led to the city of St. George and UDOT applying for grants to fund the beginning of potential east-west underpass projects, Manwill said.
“It was great input,” he said “We appreciate it. The more that people talk to us, the better.”
For more details on the proposed 700 South interchange,the Finding of No Significant Impact report and environmental assessment report, visit UDOT’s I-15 St. George Improved Bluff Street to St. George Boulevard website.
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