Salt Lake City, Utah Jan. 8, 2002 (AP by Catherine S. Blake)--Workers for some major Salt Lake City companies will be at the office as early as 4 a.m. next month to avoid downtown traffic snarls during the Winter Olympics.
In fact, so many workers are altering schedules, taking vacation time or telecommuting that streets could be nearly empty of everyday commuters.
The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has asked for a 20 percent reduction in background traffic during the Feb. 8-24 Winter Games. 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.
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 traffic. One of the most popular Olympic sports _ figure skating _ will be held at the downtown Salt Lake Ice Center.
Within walking distance of the ice center is the medals plaza, the daily site of an awards ceremony and concerts for up to 20,000 people. Nearly four large 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, 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 their schedules. Lane Beattie, the state's Olympic officer, said all critical services 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 don't plan to budge on schedules, including the Qwest telephone company, which won't alter shifts for its 1,100 employees downtown.
``For us the Olympics means work, and we expect our employees to be here,'' said Caroline Roemer, communications director for Qwest.
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