As everyone else celebrates the long-awaited completion of I-70 Friday, engineer Archie Hamilton finds the occasion a bit of a letdown.
"I'm a little remorseful, looking out the window and seeing a career pass in front of me," Hamilton said earlier this week.So far, he has spent his entire 30-year stint with the Utah Department of Transportation, helping blaze a freeway through some of the most rugged country in Utah.
Friday, that part of his job came to an end as Gov. Norm Bangerter and other dignitaries gathered at Eagle Canyon Bridge to dedicate the final section of I-70. Hamilton, one of three remaining UDOT employees whoworked on the project from the beginning, was on the program to give some remarks.
He could easily have taken the whole afternoon sharing anecdotes about the project.
In 1959, UDOT employees armed with maps, a jeep and a bulldozer ventured into the San Rafael Swell to begin the formidable task of plowing a four-lane highway through a massive limestone-sandstone formation.
The Swell's impassable cliffs and narrow canyons forced explorers Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante and John C. Fremont to take alternative routes more than 100 years before. And the story goes that when the UDOT planners told a sheepherder in the area what they were doing, he fell over laughing.
But engineers Albert Spensko, Rex Oviatt and Bill Austin forged ahead, locating the first-ever route from Green River to Fremont Junction in the winter and spring of 1960. At one point the trio followed a pack of wild horses to find the best way from Devil's Canyon to South Salt Wash.
Asked about the most memorable part of the project, Hamilton said: Excavating through Spotted Wolf Canyon. He said he could stand in one spot and touch both sides of the canyon. That was before crews blasted and chiseled a 100-foot-wide road through the narrow channel. About 3.5 million yards of excavation was required for the eight-mile section.
"It was one of the most significant highway construction feats of its time," Hamilton said.
Another milestone was construction of the spectacular Eagle Canyon Bridge. The first half of the bridge, which now will serve eastbound traffic, was opened in 1965. The recently completed companion bridge, now open to westbound traffic, spans 518 feet with a height of 205 feet and a 428-foot arch.
A proposal to build a road through such remote and spectacular wilderness wouldn't stand a chance today, Hamilton noted. He said environmental and archaeological concerns would kill the idea instantly.
There were easier routes, but Hamilton said the decision to plow through a previously impassable area came after public hearings indicated the chosen course gave the most benefit to motorists.
The completion of I-70 through the San Rafael Swell cost $183.5 million. Receiving the federal money, particularly during the inflationary 1970s, was difficult and held up the project, Hamilton said.
It took a personal trip by Bangerter to Washington, D.C., UDOT spokesman Kim Morris said, to secure the final $78 million needed to complete I-70.
With I-70 finished, all that's left to complete Utah's interstate system is a small section of I-15 between Tremonton and Plymouth.
Morris said that is scheduled for completion in late November.