PHOENIX —The largest project in more than 40 years on Arizona’s portion of Interstate 15 will begin next week when the Arizona Department of Transportation starts on the reconstruction of Virgin River Bridge No. 6 in the far northwest corner of the state.
This extensive rehabilitation project will include the replacement of the bridge’s superstructure (girders, deck and railings), as well as widening the roadway through the narrow passage of the scenic Virgin River Gorge, which was the most expensive segment of rural highway ever built in the United States, per mile, when it was completed in 1973 after a decade of construction.
The $27 million project at milepost 16, located approximately 20 miles south of St. George, Utah, is expected to take up to two years to complete. ADOT will begin setting up traffic control on Tuesday, March 25.
With limited alternate routes due to the remote location of the I-15 Virgin River Gorge corridor and a separate bridge deck surface project already underway on bridges No. 2, 3 and 7, ADOT urges drivers traveling between Mesquite, Nev., and St. George to plan ahead, allow extra travel time, slow down and drive carefully through the work zone.
During construction, ADOT is committed to keeping at least one lane in each direction open during all phases of construction. I-15 will be narrowed to one lane in each direction at each of the bridge projects and delays are expected.
Despite being cut off from the rest of the state due to the Grand Canyon, Arizona’s 29-mile-long segment of I-15 is one of the most heavily traveled commercial and economic corridors linking southern California with the Rocky Mountain region. Ultimately, ADOT will need to rehabilitate all eight (in seven locations) of the I-15 Virgin River bridges.
While the bridges are still considered safe for travel, they require extensive refurbishment to continue serving the substantial volume of traffic along the I-15 corridor. More than 1.4 million commercial trucks travel annually on Arizona’s portion of the interstate.
Funding all the I-15 Virgin River bridge rehabilitation projects remains a challenge. Current cost estimates for all the necessary improvements in the gorge are as much as $250 million, which is why Arizona initiated discussions in 2011 with the Federal Highway Administration, Nevada and Utah to raise awareness of the situation on I-15 and explore opportunities to identify funding solutions.
In 2012, ADOT received a $21.6 million federal grant for the upcoming Virgin River Bridge No. 6 project in the fourth round of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER IV) grant program after the states of Nevada and Utah lent their support.
ADOT remains committed to the Interstate 15 corridor, which passes through the environmentally sensitive area of the Virgin River Gorge (mileposts 13-22) and is widely considered one of the engineering marvels of the federal interstate highway system.
In 2012, ADOT completed an $11.6 million pavement improvement project from the Virgin River to the Utah state line (mileposts 13-29) and has budgeted nearly $15 million to complete the repaving of the entire Arizona segment of the highway by paving a 13-mile portion that extends to the Nevada state line (mileposts 1-13) in 2015.
This spring, ADOT will also be submitting a federal grant application for a 2014 TIGER grant for the proposed I-15 Virgin River Bridge No. 1 project, which is currently listed in the agencies’ Tentative Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program for fiscal year 2019.
ADOT works to inform the public about planned highway restrictions. Unscheduled restrictions or closures may occur. To stay up-to-date with the latest highway conditions around the state, visit the ADOT Traveler Information Center at az511.gov or call 5-1-1; outside Arizona, dial 1-888-411-ROAD (7623).
For more information about these projects, please visit azdot.gov/I15virginriver.