Jud Burkett, The Spectrum
The Arizona Department of Transportation has announced plans to modernize the Virgin River Gorge corridor on I-15 beginning Jan. 6.

ST. GEORGE — Drivers on I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge will soon have to add some extra time and patience to their travel itinerary as work to rebuild numerous aging bridges gets underway this month.

The Arizona Department of Transportation has announced plans to modernize the Virgin River Gorge corridor on I-15. Beginning Jan. 6, the department will begin a $2.8 million project to upgrade the southbound bridge surfaces, repair girders and perform other work on three Virgin River bridges.

Work is expected to be completed by summer 2014.

The bridges, located in the far northwestern corner of Arizona, were originally constructed in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Because of the remote location of the I-15 Virgin River Gorge corridor, there will be limited alternate routes, explained Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Dustin Krugel.

“We want to make sure that at all times we keep at least one lane open,” he said.

The department is urging drivers traveling between St. George and Mesquite, Nev., to plan ahead, allowing plenty of additional travel time. I-15 will be narrowed to one lane in each direction at each of the bridge projects and delays are expected.

“Budget at least an extra 15 minutes,” he said, adding that a crash in the work zone could extend delays dramatically.

Construction on the project will occur primarily during weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the majority of work taking place in the southbound lanes requiring two-way traffic in the northbound lanes.

At the January 2014 State Transportation Board meeting, the board is expected to consider the award of a contract for the reconstruction of a fourth Virgin River bridge. The major rehabilitation project will include the replacement of the bridge’s superstructure, including girders, deck and railings, as well as widening the roadway through the narrow passage of the gorge.

The $27 million project, which will be funded in part by a federal grant awarded to the department last year through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, is scheduled to begin in spring 2014, with completion expected in 2015.

Despite the corridor’s remote location, Arizona transportation officials will eventually need to rehabilitate all eight of the I-15 Virgin River bridges, Krugel said.

I-15 is one of the most heavily traveled corridors linking southern California with the Rocky Mountain region, with more than 1.4 million commercial trucks traveling through the Arizona portion of the highway each year, according to the department.

Krugel noted that while the bridges are still considered safe for travel, they require extensive refurbishment to continue serving the substantial volume of traffic.

When the 29-mile Arizona segment of I-15 opened in 1973, the Virgin River Gorge passage was the most expensive section of rural highway constructed in the country — on a per mile basis.

In 2012, an $11.6 million pavement improvement project was completed from the Virgin River to the Utah state line from milepost 13 to milepost 29. This year, the agency has budgeted nearly $15 million to complete the repaving of the entire Arizona segment of the highway by paving a 13-mile portion that extends to the Nevada state line.

Meanwhile, Krugel said that while the department works to inform the public about planned highway restrictions, unscheduled restrictions or closures may occur. He advised drivers to visit www.azdot.gov/I15virginriver for more information about the projects or call 1-888-411-ROAD (7623).

E-mail: [email protected], Twitter: JasenLee1