ST. GEORGE — Wednesday, the Utah Department of Transportation revealed their redesigned plans for the upcoming overpass construction project at the Sunset-Bluff intersection. The original $20 million jug-handle overpass has been reconfigured as part of UDOT’s polishing process and a new streamlined overpass will take its place.
The new plans axed the circular jug-handle overpass structure altogether, which would have occupied a building-sized section of grass from the 8th hole of the Dixie Red Hills Golf Course. The new design will not take up any land from the golf course and UDOT crews will instead erect the 22-foot tall overpass structure in the middle of the Bluff-Sunset intersection. This will significantly minimize the amount of nearby land UDOT would have procured by imminent domain.
The streamlined design is also more intuitive for the driver – as opposed to the original design which would have sent the most dominant movement of traffic out of its way and divert it around a loop onto Sunset. The new design will curve this traffic uninterrupted under the overpass onto Sunset Boulevard without diversion.
The original jug-handle design was brought to the table in 2012 as part of a UDOT environmental assessment for the forthcoming Bluff Street mainline expansion project. The jug-handle idea developed because a lot of people really liked the idea of getting rid of signals and having free-flow of traffic at this intersection, UDOT region 4 spokesperson Kevin Kitchen said.
“The jug-handle was a viable alternative but it was very impactful too.”
The original jug-handle design came under scrutiny at a public hearing in 2012. Community members were generally concerned with the impacts it would have on the Dixie Red Hills Golf Course and residents of the Sunstone community near the jug-handle. Even aside from the meeting, UDOT received even more concern from the public regarding the jug-handle, Kitchen said.
Because the jug-handle was an initial design – UDOT designers were able to find something that worked better as the process unfolded, Kitchen said.
“Some of those things you can’t even address until you get down to a more intimate level of design.”
Once UDOT designers started finalizing designs, with public input, the new design just made sense.
“We can veer away from a lot of the things that the public has been worried about and still function with these types of modifications,” Kitchen said of the new design, “but it’ll actually reduce costs too.”
The configuration of the new overpass will function very similarly to the current intersection at Bluff and Sunset minus a few traffic flow variations.
First and most significantly, traffic traveling north from downtown St. George on Bluff Street will be able to merge west uninterrupted onto Sunset Boulevard towards the Santa Clara area. These drivers will follow the bend which will pass under the overpass structure without a traffic signal. This turn typically holds the largest flow of traffic at the intersection, Kitchen said.
Second, drivers at two spots on the intersection will encounter shorter red-light wait times. This is the case for traffic flowing south from Enterprise crossing the overpass toward downtown St. George, as well as Sunset Boulevard traffic driving east from Santa Clara turning onto northbound Bluff street towards Enterprise.
Third, it will be safer for drivers coming from Enterprise travelling south down Bluff Street and attempting to turn onto Sunset and quickly get onto Valley View Drive. Currently, those turning west towards Santa Clara at this intersection must quickly merge across three lanes of traffic to turn left onto Valley View Drive. The new intersection design has included a special turning lane for these drivers who need to get on Valley View safely.
Aside from vehicle flow, the options for bike trails and pedestrian travel through this intersection are still in planning phases, but UDOT has had input from the Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance regarding the options, Kitchen said.
Construction on the intersection is expected to begin near the beginning of 2015, although the specific start date has not officially be scheduled yet, Kitchen said. The intersection should be complete within a year of its start time.
The original expected total cost of this intersection was $20 million but Kitchen said that current figures show that the new design could be a cost savings.
This is the first stage of a three-phase Bluff street overhaul project which will widen a section of the mainline Bluff Street and rebuild the main intersections.
The funding for all three parts of the project has been approved, however only the Sunset intersection phase has been funded so far. Funding for the widening and the St. George Boulevard intersection is expected in the next few years.
The new design was released at a public open house Wednesday during which UDOT designers, managers and officials were on scene to take comments and explain new Bluff Street construction projects using large displays that depicted the designs.
ED. NOTE: The section of grass of the Dixie Red Hills Golf Course has been updated from what was originally reported as the 3rd hole and changed to the 8th hole.
- More info with updates as the project moves along can be found on UDOT’s Bluff-Sunset overpass page
- UDOT’s entire Environmental Assessment for the Bluff Street expansion can be read here
- Updates on all upcoming Bluff Street corridor construction can be found here
- The costs and locations of all UDOT’s current Southern Utah construction projects can be found here.
- Construction underway on north Bluff ‘fly-over’
- Bluff Street project meeting draws out opposition
- Current, future road projects reviewed, transportation expo
- UDOT, Washington County cities exhibit plans for road, trail, bussing projects; Dixie Regional Transportation Expo 2013
- St. George Boulevard-I-15-Exit 8 diverging diamond interchange now open
- Southern Parkway connections slated for December completion, overall route yet to finish
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