Paving operations like this one could impact Interstate 70 traffic near Copper Mountain throughout the summer.
Paving operations like this one could impact Interstate 70 traffic near Copper Mountain throughout the summer.
Colorado Department of Transportation

The I-70 Project That Could Jam Up Your Mountain Drives All Summer Long

Editor's note: This is the most recent entry in an ongoing series about Colorado Department of Transportation projects that will impact commuters in the Denver area and beyond. Click to read about Central 70, I-25 North, I-25 South Gap, an update about construction on C-470, the Floyd Hill I-70 proposal and the funding search for related projects.

This summer brings a series of major construction projects to Colorado roadways. But more modest operations can cause slowdowns for drivers, too, particularly on routes such as Interstate 70, which sees traffic volume go way up during the warm-weather months because of locals and tourists pouring into mountain towns.

Case in point: A June 18 lane closure on westbound I-70 near Copper Mountain caused hours-long backups. And the project, which involves paving and milling a seven-and-a-half-mile stretch of the interstate heading in both directions, is projected to last through August, at least.

The good news: The jam-up on the 18th was so bad that the Colorado Department of Transportation, the agency implementing the plan to upgrade this section of I-70, is ready to move some of its efforts to the wee hours in order to minimize the impact on the traveling public.

According to Tracy Trulove, CDOT's Region 3 communications manager, "We'll definitely look at night work if there are significant delays." In addition, no work is planned for weekends.

The $6.7 million operation, financed by the department's Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery (FASTER) program and contracted to Golden's APC Southern Construction, starts at "mile point 190, which is the summit of Vail Pass, and goes all the way to mile point 197.5, an area we call Officer's Gulch," Trulove notes. The majority of the area is on view in the following video:

"This is an overlay project," Trulove explains, "so we'll be replacing approximately two miles of asphalt in the Officer's Gulch area. And in other areas, we'll be doing some asphalt paving, some concrete barrier work and some guardrail replacement, which can be a little tricky. We'll be repairing some portions of the guardrails and we'll put some into areas that may not have it now."

Here's the basic schedule to complete these various tasks.

• Early June to Early July — Asphalt removal, westbound lanes, nighttime work

• Early July to Early August — Asphalt removal, eastbound lanes, nighttime work

• Early June to Early July — Asphalt paving, westbound lanes, nighttime work

• Early July to Early August — Asphalt paving, eastbound lanes, nighttime work

• Early August to Mid August Guardrail replacement, westbound lanes, daytime work

• Mid-August to Late August Guardrail replacement, eastbound lanes, daytime work

The June 18 backup raised concerns among locals of a rolling traffic nightmare that may not end until Labor Day. But Trulove stresses that there were extenuating circumstances.

"We were doing a test patch," she reveals. "The lane closure was pretty long, and because it's a very winding part of the roadway, the geometry presented some challenges. But recognizing how much it impacted traffic, our team is looking at whether we should be doing the larger part of the Officer's Gulch piece at night."

A map of the project.
A map of the project.
Colorado Department of Transportation

A similar decision may need to be made near the Vail Pass summit.

"If we're on a good grade, we may be fine," she believes. "But the difficulty could come with pushing commercial vehicles into a single lane. If they're really going slow up that grade, we could see a fair amount of delay. We'll be keeping an eye on that, and if that happens, we'll look at night work there, too."

In the meantime, Trulove urges "folks who are going to head out on the I-70 corridor to check in on our COtrip system to see what we're doing, so they can adjust their drive time."

The seven-plus miles of I-70 being targeted over the summer "is definitely in need of repair," Trulove emphasizes. "We know we will be delaying folks trying to get somewhere, because this is the time of year when we need to get things done. But we're trying to make the delays as short as possible."

Drivers are being told to expect delays of up to twenty minutes from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday until the job is done. And everyone, including the CDOT staff, is hoping they won't be longer than that.

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