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THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE I-15 Engineer Weary But Proud as Project Winds Down
Author(s): BRANDON GRIGGS THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE Date: May 29, 2001 Page: A1 Section: Nation/World

For four years, Richard Miller has inhaled exhaust fumes, endured thundering traffic and fielded queries from frustrated friends and strangers such as, "Hey, I work at 5300 South. How do I get to work now?" Miller is one of more than 2,000 workers who since April 1997 have rebuilt Interstate 15 -- the largest construction project in Utah history.

Only now, with 17 miles of widened freeway reopened, can Miller catch his breath and admire his handiwork.

"I don't think I get romantic about it. It's only concrete," says the square-jawed UDOT project engineer. "But I do get goose bumps thinking about what's been done. I'm just amazed that this amount of work got done in four years. I'm really proud of that."

A 15-year veteran of state road construction, Miller is a human face on what has been a largely faceless project. The 41-year-old moved to Utah in 1984 to escape the congestion of the freeway capital of the world, his native Los Angeles. Never could Miller imagine that his crowning career achievement in Salt Lake City would be building a mega-freeway that most commuting-crazed Californians would envy.

Miller signed on in 1996 to supervise quality control on the project's southernmost segment, from 10800 South to 4800 South. By last fall, he had been promoted to oversee its entire length. Miller and his team of technicians monitored the work of hundreds of carpenters, machine operators, ironworkers and laborers hired by Wasatch Constructors to rebuild the freeway.

On Miller's office wall hangs a large aerial photo of I-15's junction with I-215 -- "just to remind myself," he says with a chuckle, "of where my home's been these last four years." Completing the job took 7.8 million man-hours, and some 10,000 of those were Miller's. He has worked nights and weekends, been paged in the middle of the night about traffic accidents and heard grumblings from impatient motorists. At times the $1.59 billion project's demands have exhausted him, tested his wife's patience and caused him to miss his children's soccer games.

"I don't think I've ever had a 40-hour week on this job," says Miller, who will remain on the project until October to finish details. "It's been really stressful and challenging. But it's been rewarding, too. As an engineer you look at plans all the time. And [the reopened freeway] looks

pretty close to what I envisioned four years ago."

By any measure, the new and improved I-15 is an enormous undertaking. The project encompasses 142 rebuilt bridges, 810,000 cubic yards of poured concrete and 121 million feet of steel rebar. Originally estimated to take eight years, the rebuild was done in half that time -thanks to an innovative approach that had freeway designers and construction crews working simultaneously.

"I don't think any of us will ever be the same. We're different people now than we were four years ago," says UDOT project director John Bourne, who has nothing but praise for Miller's work. "You need somebody you can count on when things get difficult. And Richard has been very steady. It's a dream to have somebody like him on a job."

Although he has an office in a trailer near the freeway at 1700 South, Miller spends most of his time on I-15, walking the pavement in search of construction flaws or motoring from site to site in his white UDOT truck. The job can be consuming: Miller admits to showing freeway design features to his family on his days off.

"We'll be driving down the road and I'll point things out, like the size of an overpass or the length of a girder," he says. "It drives my wife crazy. Sometimes she tells me to shut up."

Miller commutes from his Jeremy Ranch home, which means he has spent much of the past four years stuck in I-15 traffic with everyone else. Most days he gets to work ahead of the morning traffic, but -- call him crazy -- Miller sometimes ventures onto the freeway at rush hour "to see where the problems are."

After the freeway segment's May 14 reopening, Miller climbed into his truck and cruised its 17mile length like a proud parent.

"It was really nice. There's a lot of room," he says. "But people are driving a little too fast. They're probably tired of sitting in traffic these last four years."

(c) 2001 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.

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