Salt Lake workers changing schedules to avoid gridlock

By Catherine S. Blake The Associated Press
Tuesday January 08, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY — Workers for some major Salt Lake City employers will be at the office as early as 4 a.m. next month in hopes of avoiding downtown traffic snarls during the Winter Olympics. 

In fact, so many workers are altering schedules, taking vacation time or telecommuting that the downtown streets could be nearly empty of everyday commuters and the congestion they cause. 

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has asked for a 20 percent reduction in background traffic during the 17-day Winter Games, which begin Feb. 8. If companies, government agencies and nonprofits don’t comply, officials warn, the city could face gridlock. 

Most are obeying. 

Many of the 180 employees in the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Salt Lake office plan to begin work at 4 a.m. 

“I guess they’re old farm boys or something,” said Barry Wirth, a bureau spokesman. 

Wells Fargo employees at two offices a few blocks from the hub of downtown Olympic activity will clear out in time to watch events from the comfort of their couches. About 500 of them will start at 7:30 a.m. and end by 2 p.m., said Bob Hatch, Wells Fargo’s president and chief executive for Utah. 

Transportation planners want to emulate Atlanta and Los Angeles’ success in reducing traffic during Summer Games in 1996 and 1984. In those cities, traffic flowed more smoothly during the Olympics than during normal times. 

Laid out on a grid, downtown Salt Lake struggles on a normal day with commuters entering and leaving downtown. One of the most popular Olympic sports — figure skating — will be held at the downtown Salt Lake Ice Center. Both events start in the early evening — the typical commute time. 

Within walking distance of the ice center is the enormous medals plaza, the daily site of an awards ceremony and concerts for up to 20,000 people. Nearly four large downtown blocks will be closed to traffic, and many parking spots and lots have been blocked off or taken over by SLOC. 

Administrators at LDS Hospital, which sits several blocks away from downtown, are most concerned with its 11 p.m. shift change, near the time events at the medals plaza will end. The hospital won’t change hours for its 5,000 employees, but they’ve warned staff that if some workers are stuck in traffic, others should expect to stay overtime. 

For its part, between 6,000 and 10,000 of the state’s 16,000 employees are expected to alter work schedules. Lane Beattie, the state’s Olympic officer, said all critical services — such as family welfare, Medicaid, Department of Health — would continue on a normal schedule. 

Many of the Mormon church’s 2,500 employees who work downtown will come in between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., leaving by 3 p.m., said Steve Ostler, director of employee relations for the church. 

Some businesses, however, say they don’t plan to budge on schedules. Telephone company Qwest won’t alter its 1,100 employees’ schedules. It occupies a 15-story building in the heart of downtown. 

“For us the Olympics means work, and we expect our employees to be here,” said Caroline Roemer, communications director for Qwest. 


On the Net: