Salt Lake City, October 14, 1995 – You wouldn’t know it, but the skies were blue overhead as Governor Leavitt addressed a crowd of approximately 100 officials 70 feet below the intersection of South Temple and 300 East.
Leavitt, along with officials from the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Legislature, and representatives from Cottonwood Heights to the capital city officially cut the ribbon on the nation’s newest interstate, I-115, on Saturday, with festivities starting with an inaugural motorcade beginning at the intersection of Fort Union Blvd and Highland Drive.
The procession continued northward, connecting with the recently completed I-215 some six years prior and cutting past St. Marks Hospital, Sugarhouse Park, and Westminster College before ducking underground and continuing its journey through the heart of downtown Salt Lake before emerging in the Marmalade District, connecting with I-15 at 600 North and ending not far after at 900 West.
Proposed in the early 60’s, completion was originally slated for the mid 80’s, however, protests from the community proved to be vexing for government officials. Groups griped that the road would cut historic communities in half and add to the increasing issue of wintertime pollution. But, through the use of eminent domain, the ground was broken in 1984 with hopes of a 1991 opening.
Many also wondered if the route was truly necessary, as it would save, perhaps, 5 minutes to a person’s commute from the southeast end of the valley. Advocates noted that proposals to convert unused rail lines into a light rail system could deliver people more directly to downtown and the University of Utah without dedicating nearly as much land to infrastructure. In addition, opponents called for ways to calm traffic on the road by increasing bus routes and reducing speeds. Officials largely disregarded these complaints, opening wondering if people would even bother to ride a train.
I-115 was delayed for some years due to tunneling issues through the city center – specifically the unforeseen consequences of cutting so close to historic locations such as the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Utah State Capitol, and Salt Lake Temple. For a brief time groundwater from City Creek was also contaminated, forcing a halt to the project for 3 months as engineers evaluated the situation.
“It has been a long road” Leavitt joked “but this is exactly what we need in order to move people around the Salt Lake Valley. Now that we know we will be hosting the world in seven short years, it is time to start moving Utahns!”
During the same speech, Leavitt continued to push a proposal to run a freeway along the eastern shores of the Great Salt Lake in Davis County as far north as Roy with its starting point splitting off of I-215 just before heading east to connect with I-15.
This story, of course, didn’t happen. But the proposition that a freeway run through downtown and roughly along 1300 East was a very real one and occasionally is floated even today. Though we certainly wish that the Wasatch Front had more transit options, one has to wonder how much worse our communities would be if the East Valley Freeway had been a reality at the expense of mass transit.
We did our best to translate the grainy maps into something you could view on Google Maps and estimated/provided proposed on and off-ramps. If you would like to take a look, click here.
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