ST. GEORGE, Utah (KSNV MyNews3.com) —
The only direct route between southern Nevada and southern Utah is getting a major overhaul, and that could mean long delays for commuters in the area known as the Virgin River Gorge.
"This entire Virgin River Gorge is almost like driving through like a mini-Grand Canyon,” said Dustin Krugel of the Arizona Department of Transportation. “It takes us around and underneath bridge No. 6. It's the largest of the eight bridges that are definitely due for replacement or rehabilitation.”
“We're looking at over 40 years ago when this was built,” Krugel said. “And actually even longer when construction started way back in the '60s and planning for it even before that.”
When this stretch of I-15 finally opened in 1973, it was the most expensive piece of the Interstate system in the country. It's easy to see why, with steep walls and sharp curves that required creative solutions from freeway engineers.
“This is truly one of the engineering marvels of the Interstate Highway system,” Krugel said.
A look at the rock markings show how holes were drilled down from the surface, and dynamite used to blast the rock away.
“And you're also doing construction during a time when you didn't have the safety standards we have today,” Krugel said. “There [were] a lot of workers that didn't have harnesses and rope doing very dangerous work.”
Several people died during the original work. The new project should be safer, but the task is still daunting. This is a very heavily traveled trucking corridor.
“There's going to be two 250-ton cranes that are going to be working in this area that can rise 200 feet in the air,” Krugel said.
While all this is done, the main corridor between Las Vegas and St. George, which cuts through an isolated corner of Arizona, will be reduced to one lane each way while two bridges are completely rebuilt and the others resurfaced. When complete, this structure will be wider, but otherwise, it look much different.
“They just view like this particular steel and everything. They want to keep it looking much as it was when it was originally built in the '60s and '70s,” Krugel said.
The project is now in full swing and won’t wrap up until the end of 2015.