Jug-handle nixed, future Bluff-Sunset overpass gets streamlined

New design of Bluff Street, Sunset Blvd. interchange revealed on June 18, 2014, St. George, Utah | Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Transportation, St. George News

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.

New design of Bluff Street, Sunset Boulevard interchange revealed on June 18, 2014, St. George, Utah | Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Transportation, St. George News
New design of Bluff Street, Sunset Boulevard interchange revealed on June 18, 2014, St. George, Utah | Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Transportation, St. George News

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.

New design of Bluff Street, Sunset Boulevard interchange revealed on June 18, 2014, St. George, Utah | Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Transportation, St. George News
New design of Bluff Street, Sunset Boulevard interchange revealed on June 18, 2014, St. George, Utah | Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Transportation, St. George News

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 original jug-handle design of UDOT's Bluff-Sunset interchange, the design has been changed - and the jug handle removed, St. George, Utah | Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Transportation, St. George News
The original jug-handle design of UDOT’s Bluff-Sunset interchange, the design has been changed – and the jug handle removed, St. George, Utah | Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Transportation, St. George News

“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.”

New design

The configuration of the new overpass will function very similarly to the current intersection at Bluff and Sunset minus a few traffic flow variations.

Members of UDOT's design team explain the new overpass design at a public open house, city council chambers, St. George, UT, June 17, 2014| Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News
Members of UDOT’s design team explain the new overpass design at a public open house, city council chambers, St. George, UT, June 17, 2014| Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

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.

Sunset-Bluff interchange design on display at a UDOT public open house, city council chambers, St. George, UT, June 17, 2014| Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News
Sunset-Bluff interchange design on display at a UDOT public open house, city council chambers, St. George, UT, June 17, 2014| Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

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.

Resources

  • 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.

Related Posts

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12 Comments

  • Julie June 19, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    I think that would have been a building sized chunk of hole # 8. I think. That’s the one closest to Bluff.

  • My Evil Twin June 19, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Heaven knows we can’t have anything come up that would impact our golfers! 😉
    Seriously though, this looks like a much better design. Still wondering what kind of a mess they are going to make of Bluff and Blvd though. . .

  • Bobless June 19, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Now this is more like it! Thanks for listening to the public, UDOT.

  • Tyler June 19, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    This is exactly my idea and what I had in mind. The jug-handle was overkill to say the least.

  • Randoogle June 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    So, pedestrians get the shaft again with this intersection? It looked like at least the original design had a way for them to get from one side to the other.

  • SB June 19, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    It’s ridiculous that pedestrians and cyclists are, again, barely considered. In fact-as of yet, not even part of the plan. Forget commuting by bike in SG-or even trying to walk across Bluff!

    • pay at the pump June 19, 2014 at 5:34 pm

      bi-cyclists pay no road tax.

      tough.

      • Super Grover June 19, 2014 at 6:21 pm

        Of course, there’s just a remote possibility that they might also own cars.

      • koldobika2020 June 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm

        Actually, UDOT is partly funded through the highways tax, which is 0.3% of the 6.25% sales tax you pay at retail and grocery stores (and the 7.25% you pay at restaurants – places that sell prepared food have an additional 1% restaurant/tourism tax. Hotels and inns have even more additional tax). These are taxes which are paid by everyone, including people who do not own cars. Sunset and Bluff are considered state highways, which is why UDOT is funding their improvement. The more you know!

        The reason that bicyclists and pedestrians are not considered in plans is due to local culture. It’s not a taxpayer consideration.

        • Carlos June 20, 2014 at 7:39 am

          For any body who went to the open house that night, they would have seen at least 4 ideas they had for pedestrians and bicycle crossings. Bridges and tunnels and combinations of both. Maybe more than 4 ideas are possible, who knows. The point being, Peds and bike crossings don’t show up on the plan in this article, but for those striving to be more informed and went to the event, this is being seriously considered.

  • Shirl June 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Soooooooo much better! I like how streamlined it is and that jug handle curve looks SHARP! Glad we won’t be careening around that!

  • G.S. Hale June 20, 2014 at 11:04 am

    This doesn’t seem to address the problem of how dangerous it is to merge from the wrong side of a lane. My understanding of the current configuration is that the merging of the lane that heads north on 18/bluff is the main problem with the intersection. Many fatalities due to people not understanding how the irregular intersection works.

    But does this really need to be done at all is the bigger question? I do not follow how this over pass and the other new one currently under construction do anything to help the alleviate the bottleneck and congestion that you will surely experience driving through one of the busiest business districts in the whole town.

    So these multimillion dollar projects will make it so you don’t have to slow down for two more lights ( approx 2/3 mile) if you are headed south toward i-15 and make it so you can get out of town faster if you are headed north?

    Further as noted in earlier comments you’re not making it easier for pedestrians and whiny cyclists to cross the intersection?

    Isn’t there something like one of the worst rated education systems in the U.S. or is there something fun (Besides Golf – Tuacahn – Zion) to attract tourism money and new businesses into the area that we could spend this money on?

    Where are the aesthetics police that usually bitch about something new that is going to be big and possibly ugly? The people that did not want a theme park near Grafton or a water park on the old airport mesa ( which by the way was another huge waste of money and a entirely different rant). Has not one of these “fun police” people seen that this overpass will block the view of what is one of the more appealing and iconic commercial properties in town? One that actually looks like it wasn’t built by someones “hill-billy” brother. Doesn’t it seem a little rude to make the side of an overpass the view from the apartment int he area?

    Where are the business owners on these corners? The must not understand that this in essence is a “Business By-Pass” and is going to actually make it too much of a hassle to access their establishments. Look at all the businesses in Mesquite that have closed due to idiotic layouts like this. They can sure get through their business district faster but most all national chain stores are gone. Surely we are not as dumb as them?

    I think it boils down to someone in the right clique of politicians asked for this – hell it might have even made sense if you were coming at this from the standpoint of this will save lives… But that doesn’t seem to be the objective with either design. I think that the local politicians should stand up to the state politicians and make them come up with a design that suits everyone and makes it more safe – or rethink if this makes sense at all.

    The simplest and cheapest thing if this has to happen is fly over traffic from Sunset onto the outside lane of the 18 headed north….. then fly 1 lane of south bound traffic over 2 lanes of traffic headed west onto Sunset. Then build pedestrian bridges going north/south and east/west for walkers joggers and whiny bicyclists……

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