Washington City helps St. George with Mall Drive Bridge project

Posted at 10:20 PM, Nov 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-21 00:20:04-05

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah - Neighbor helping neighbor, that’s what happened in southern Utah this week.

A St. George road project that’s been caught up in government red tape is getting a boost after neighboring Washington City gave up their spot in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s priority list.

The Mall Drive Bridge project is one St. George has been planning for several years, in order to alleviate traffic pressure to one of the county’s fastest growing areas. But, because it would span the Virgin River, certain environmental steps need to be taken, and Assistant City Manager Marc Mortensen said because of the animals who live there, there’s a strict timeline.

“There are three endangered species that inhabit that area along the Virgin River,” he said. “One is a bird, and two are fish. All of the work needs to be completed between now and April 15th. Then we’re required to actually vacate the area during the active season of the species.”

That’s why they need the approval of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The city has already submitted for approval, but began to worry they might not have enough time to finish the project in 2014.

Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said that’s when St. George city manager Gary Esplin called him and asked if Washington City would be willing to switch spots on the USFWS’s priority list. Neilson said they were happy to oblige.

“We’re excited that we can offer that to St. George,” Neilson said. “This will allow another bridge to be built to service Washington and St. George, Washington Fields, Little Valley, all of that.”

Washington City was next in line on the list with a project to connect the various trails that run along the river, but Neilson said they recognize the need to provide another access point to those fast growing areas.

“There’s probably going to be, in the next couple years, three or four, even five hundred homes down in the Fields and Little Valley,” Neilson said.

Washington City will take St. George’s place in line, but the switch may only give the bridge project a couple months head start. Still, Mortensen said in a project with such a steady deadline, every little bit helps. The project has an estimated cost of $7.4 million, and the city wants to be able to purchase materials, while taking advantage of favorable bond rates.

“Who knows what the cost would be next fall,” Mortensen said. “Not to mention all the time wasted in helping to alleviate traffic problems that exist today."

Assuming the city can get approval in the next couple of months, the actual structure should only take about four months to build, then the entire project would be done by fall 2014.