Silver wins gold

Engineering firm and software successfully handles Olympic traffic

Marci Crossan / September 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.

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."

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