It's been more than 20 years since construction began on I-215, a road project intended to connect all of Salt Lake City's major highways. Now, after several delays, millions of dollars and a number of confusing lawsuits, the project is almost completed.

Construction on the last portion of I-215's east-side belt route, the last rung of the project, is scheduled for completion next year. It cost millions more than original estimates, but should be completed ahead of schedule."This contract (east-side belt route) originally allowed 481 work days. We began construction in May, and have done 20 percent of the work in only 12 percent of the time," said Duane Christensen, project engineer.

Christensen said about 80 percent of the actual road excavation has already been completed, despite delays and design changes.

The contractors - Ball, Ball and Brosamer, a California construction company - have delayed work a number of times while designers made changes to appease the residents, Christensen said.

"We had to depress the freeway to help reduce the noise. It was much harder and much more expensive," he said.

The road will be constructed in a 35-foot trench. Because workers had to dig underground, a number of water and sewer lines were disturbed and had to be relocated.

A 10- to 12-foot concrete wall is being built along the sides of the road to reduce noise. "The noise wall alone is costing us about $120 per foot and we're putting in more than 10,000 feet. It's also very time consuming," Christensen said.

John Maurer, District 2 road-design manager, said the price tag for the entire I-215 project has already exceeded $79 million. When the project was first initiated, the estimated cost was $39 million.

"We reached a point where there were changes in laws and a lot of opposition. We had to drop back and do a lot of environmental studies and make a lot of changes," he said.

The east-side belt route was projected to cost about $28 million. Although no specific statistics are available yet, Maurer said the roadway has easily exceeded the estimated figure.

Despite the delays and added expenses, Christensen said construction on the route is ahead of schedule, and that said contractors hope to finish the job by next August - a full year earlier than anticipated.

"When we're finished, everything will tie in together. You will even have access to the canyon areas from the freeway," he said. The east-side belt route will extend from about 65th South east beyond 33rd East and connect with I-15.

The last section of the west-side I-215 project is scheduled to be completed in October, with a total price tag of about $19 million.

Christensen is optimistic about the new route and believes most of the residents, "except for a few diehards" are satisfied with the changes.

One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said he is in favor of the freeway and is upset that petitioners have dragged out its construction.

"(The freeway) would have cost up to $20 million less if it wasn't for about three people," he said. "When I bought this house, I knew they would be building a freeway. Everyone that bought a home in this complex knew it was coming."

The resident said that Salt Lake City has a poor transit system and a new freeway is essential. "I'm sick of petitions. In this federal bureaucracy people don't worry about things until the ox is in their yard."

Another resident, who supported the lawsuit to stop construction and asked to remain anonymous, said the construction workers have "bent over backward" to please the residents.

"The new freeway is part of progress. We were worried about noise, but the concrete wall will help. It won't be like it has been, but it will be better than without it," she said.

Although the woman misses the forest that was removed to make way for the freeway, she doesn't want the construction to stop "and we don't want it to slow down."