Silver wins gold

Sept. 19, 2002

During major international events like the recent 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, part of the focus was on how Olympic venues accommodated extra traffic.

During major international events like the recent 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, part of the focus was on how Olympic venues accommodated extra traffic.

But what about the impact on nearby transportation facilities? How does traffic flow affect the "little guys" during a big event like the Olympics? The redesign and construction of the Silver Creek Junction Interchange prior to the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City was a team effort between the engineers at H.W. Lochner, local businesses and a software program called AutoTURN that put everyone's mind at rest.

Trying to run a business here

Silver Creek Junction is located where U.S. 40 ends and I-80 continues. This junction lies in the path the Mormon pioneers took when they followed Brigham Young into the Salt Lake Valley through Emigration Canyon. It forms part of the route that pioneers followed on foot, and during the 2002 Winter Olympics it was scheduled to handle as much traffic as future 2020 projections.

As one of America's original transcontinental routes, U.S. 40 also forms part of a popular trucking route (U.S. 40 runs from the Colorado state line to its western end at Silver Creek Junction). Use of the interchange had been growing on its own--daily vehicle volume had risen 50% over the last 10 years. It was time to get serious about creating a new structure due to the substandard condition of the bridge and the looming Olympic traffic.

The Bell brothers of Utah, operators of Bell Brothers Oil at Silver Creek Junction since 1971, knew the Olympics would be a busy time. They were excited about the event coming to town but knew they wanted business to go on as normally as possible. But "business as usual" during an event as large as the Olympics can be a challenge, especially for a business that sits in the shadow of Silver Creek Junction, a central transportation facility for the Games.

Snow event route

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Salt Lake Olympic Committee knew that Silver Creek would be a high traffic area during the games. The junction is the main link between Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas of Park City, Deer Valley and Soldier Hollow where the snowboard, freestyle, slalom and cross country venues were located.

A nearby "Park and Ride" area (constructed to encourage bus ridership during the events and help the Salt Lake Olympic Committee achieve its goal of an emission-free Games) also would add to local volume.

The federal government agreed the Silver Creek project was necessary after considering the following factors:

l A 1998 UDOT sufficiency rating of 37 for the bridge;

l Necessary safety improvements for curve radii, visibility, road grades and merge distances;

l Congestion reduction based on the projected future 2020 traffic volume; and

l Elimination of current confusion caused by redundant movements.

Funds were put forth to assist with the project, making the Silver Creek interchange overhaul one of four major transportation projects completed in time for the Olympics.

Different ideas were considered and different firms put forth plans. The firm of H.W. Lochner was chosen for the design of the new interchange and bridge reconstruction. Engineers at Lochner's Salt Lake office, led by Tyler Robirds as project manager, decided to go with a single-point interchange with an innovative system connection between I-80 and U.S. 40. A separate flyover ramp was created to allow a direct connection from westbound U.S. 40 traffic to westbound I-80 traffic. The design was completed in March 2000 and construction was complete in the fall of 2001.

Mimicking movements

In spite of accelerating the design schedule to be ready in time for the Olympics, the team at Lochner made sure to involve the public during each stage. Designing an adequate interchange for future traffic demands while accommodating the concerns of residents and businesses who work and live near the interchange was important to both UDOT and Lochner engineers.

At Silver Creek Junction this meant working closely with David and Allan Bell of Bell Brothers. A big concern at Bell was ensuring that semi-trailer trucks and passenger vehicles would continue to be able to enter and exit the parking lot with ease. Oil refueling tankers also needed to maneuver easily off of the highway and into the parking lot.

The engineers at H.W. Lochner were able to test for this using AutoTURN software, a CAD-based program that simulates the movements of vehicles during the design stage. Designers at Lochner selected the largest vehicles that needed to enter and traverse the Bell Brothers lot and "drove" these through the design plan using AutoTURN.

Since AutoTURN is a visual program, the team at Lochner was able to show the turn simulations during presentations to community members.

No falls

According to all parties involved, the final result was a success, and the interchange delivered smooth traffic flow during the games. Nile Easton, UDOT spokesperson, announced after the Games ended that the interchange redesign had more than exceeded UDOT's expectations. "It handled heavy, heavy volume with no backups, it's structurally very sound and it even looks appealing. We don't have the volume numbers in yet, but they're way up."