Utah County commuters may be able to enjoy Interstate 15 without a side of orange barrels when heading out to their Thanksgiving dinner this fall.

After taking a tour of the I-15 reconstruction project Wednesday morning, Gov. Gary Herbert walked over to the deputy director of the reconstruction project, put his arm around him and challenged him to wrap up major work on the freeway by the November holiday.

"Let's see if we can't get ahead of the holiday season and have this done by Thanksgiving," Herbert said to Provo River Constructors' Tim Odell.

Odell accepted the challenge, with a few caveats -- bad weather or unforeseen construction problems -- but said he expects most major road construction to actually be winding down sooner than Thanksgiving. Odell said if everything continues to go as planned he expects that most of the major projects of the construction will be completed by the end of October.

With that said, Herbert and Odell acknowledged that a lot of work still needs to be completed before the project can be declared finished.

Herbert spent the morning touring different features of the rebuilt freeway and viewing the work that is still to be completed. He toured the continuous flow intersection at University Parkway, examined the new interchange in Spanish Fork that connects I-15 with U.S. Highway 6 and met with Provo Mayor John Curtis near Provo's Center Street to examine the impact that the rebuilt ramps in the area will have on Provo.

"In the end this will have benefits for generations to come," Herbert said to Curtis as they looked up at the ramp that funnels traffic from I-15 onto Center Street.

Curtis said the construction has been a great opportunity for Provo from an economic standpoint. He noted that the rebuilt ramp that feeds directly into downtown Provo will be a great area for retail development in the county's largest city.

"We've never had a nice entrance into Provo," Curtis said. "This gives us our do-over."

After completing his tour of the 25-mile stretch of construction, which is being paid for with state tax dollars, Herbert gave his seal of approval on the project by grabbing two screwdrivers, and he and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell etched their names into a square of wet concrete that was near the Center Street freeway interchange in Orem. Both Herbert and Bell also added their handprints into the concrete in true Grauman's Chinese Theatre fashion.

"This is my exit when I come home," Herbert said while working in the wet concrete.

The governor also stated that the fact that the project is ending two years ahead of schedule and $230 million under budget indicates the Utah Department of Transportation made the right decision to go with Provo River Constructors instead of a group of companies led by Flat Iron Construction.

Herbert has received heat from his political opponents for upholding UDOT's decision to pay $13 million to Flat Iron, which was the losing bidder in the project's initial bid process. He stated that when you compare the quality of the work done on I-15 by Provo River to the work done on State Road 92 by Flat Iron, which ended up being completed many months late and millions of dollars over budget, that it was clear UDOT made the right choice.

"I wish all of our projects, great or small, were as effective as this one," Herbert said.

Road work ahead: Keep up to date with the I-15 CORE Project at heraldextra.com/i15