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FreightWaves Classics/ Infrastructure: I-80 is completed

Descending toward Echo Reservoir on I-80 westbound. (Photo: aaroads.com)

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On August 22, 1986, another milestone in the development of the nation’s Interstate Highway System (IHS) occurred with a ceremony to mark the completion of Interstate 80 (I-80) in Utah.

The ceremony was held about 50 miles from where a golden spike had been used in 1869 to commemorate the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

The new section of I-80 had opened to traffic on August 17, but a formal one-hour dedication ceremony for the 4.5-mile section near Salt Lake City took place on this date 36 years ago. Among those taking part in the dedication were Utah Lieutenant Governor W. Val Oveson and Regional Federal Highway Administrator Morris Reinhardt.

An east-west transcontinental highway, I-80 was one of the original routes of the IHS that were designated in 1956. After I-90, it is the second-longest U.S. interstate highway.

Interstate 80’s route across the United States. (Image: TopMark Funding)

The completion and opening of the highway section in Utah was the final segment of the major east-west route to be opened. Therefore, I-80 – which runs an uninterrupted 2,907 miles – had the distinction of being the world’s longest completed highway. From west to east, Interstate 80 begins at US 101 in San Francisco and ends at I-95 in Teaneck, New Jersey. Along its route I-80 passes through 11 states.


I-80 and other major highways in Utah. (Map: ccarto.com)
I-80 and other major highways in Utah. (Map: ccarto.com)

I-80 in Utah

In Utah, I-80 is 197.51 miles long and runs through the northern part of the state. Beginning in the west at the Nevada border, I-80 enters Utah in Tooele County and traverses the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Interstate 80 crosses the Bonneville Salt Flats. (Photo: InterstateKyle/youtube)
Interstate 80 crosses the Bonneville Salt Flats. (Photo: InterstateKyle/youtube)

It continues alongside the corridor of the former Victory Highway (US Route 40) and the Western Pacific Railroad’s Feather River Route. I-80 then passes the Oquirrh Mountains, enters the Salt Lake Valley and Salt Lake County. A short section of the highway runs concurrently with I-15 through downtown Salt Lake City. At the “Spaghetti Bowl,” I-80 turns east again into Summit County, travels through the mountain range, and intersects the eastern end of I-84 near Echo Reservoir and then turns northeast near Evanston toward the Wyoming border. The I-80 route was built along the corridor of the Mormon Trail (and later the Lincoln Highway)  through the Wasatch Range. The highway’s easternmost section in the state also follows the historical routes of the first transcontinental railroad and US-30S.

View east along I-80 toward the eastern I-215 interchange (foreground) and Downtown Salt Lake City (background) (Photo: Famartin/commons.wikimedia.com)
View east along I-80 toward the eastern I-215 interchange (foreground) and downtown Salt Lake City (background) (Photo: Famartin/commons.wikimedia.com)

Construction of the highway began in the 1950s, and most of I-80 in Utah was completed by the 1970s. The 4.5-mile-long section between State Route 68 and Salt Lake City International Airport was the final section to be completed. For its entire length throughout Utah, I-80 is also known as the Purple Heart Trail.

FreightWaves Classics thanks aaroads.com, ccarto.com, TopMark Funding, tooleonline.com, transportationhistory.com, Wikipedia and others for information and photos/maps that helped make this article possible.

After this photo was taken, UDOT added a lane to westbound I-80 from the SR201 interchange to exit 99. (Photo: tooeleonline.com)
After this photo was taken, UDOT added a lane to westbound I-80 from the SR201 interchange to exit 99. (Photo: tooeleonline.com)

Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.