The Senate Republican caucus took a position Thursday to support the reconstruction of 34 miles of I-15 from southern Salt Lake County into Utah County.

The vote signals a willingness by GOP senators to give the Utah Department of Transportation authority next year to bond for billions of dollars to rebuild the critically congested highway, which is considered the state's top road construction need.

With legislative authority, UDOT anticipates it could start reconstruction by 2010. The House Republican caucus is still deliberating its position on the issue and anticipates a vote in the coming days.

"We're just giving them advance notice," Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said about the Senate caucus vote. "I am convinced that starting the project now is beneficial to the state because of rising construction costs."

The segment of I-15 endorsed by the Senate is estimated to cost $3.9 billion to rebuild, with another $1.8 billion in interest costs on a bond. The reconstruction would occur from 12300 South in Salt Lake County to U.S. Highway 6 in Utah County.

Two new lanes would be added to most of the highway, with 18 interchanges rebuilt or repaired.

John Njord, UDOT executive director, said it is important for his agency to receive direction from the Legislature this session on funding for I-15 so he can know whether to begin work now, or wait. Each day of delay is estimated to cost $900,000 in inflation costs, he said.

"If I get direction, it will be full speed ahead for a contract next year," Njord said. "I-15 in Utah County is one of the most contested parts of I-15, which is arguably the most important corridor in Utah. It has an impact on everyone's life in the state."

Like the Senate, members of the House Republican caucus heard a presentation from UDOT on Thursday about different funding options for I-15 reconstruction. Some expressed concern that if money were given to I-15, it would mean less money for other roads, such as the Mountain View Corridor.

Likewise, House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, said one of the top concerns in debating a position on funding I-15 was the question of funding for other highways. With the option endorsed by the Senate, a total of $4.3 billion is estimated to exist in funding by 2030 for other projects.

"The biggest question is the cash flow and what it means for other projects," Curtis said.

UDOT has given several different scenarios to legislators, ranging from a full reconstruction of I-15 from 12300 South to the Benjamin interchange, to a partial reconstruction of just the most congested portion of the road in Utah County.

Full construction is estimated to cost $4.7 billion, with $2.12 billion in interest costs.

For more information about reconstruction plans for I-15, log on to: UDOT has recently completed a draft environmental study of the highway.

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