Denver Rant: Why Is Construction F*cking Up Every City Road at the Same Time?

So many streets are experiencing lane shutdowns or complete closures because of construction in the Denver area right now that getting from one point to another without sprouting an epic migraine is practically impossible. If a team of experts spent months trying to create the perfect formula for inspiring road rage, they couldn't do better than this.

Of course, longtime Coloradans are accustomed to a surplus of road-maintenance projects during the summer months, since there's less risk of weather delays at those times — and that makes sense. After all, snow and rain play havoc on asphalt, and driving into a pothole capable of swallowing a Winnebago can ruin your day even more quickly than a hard-hatted dude holding a sign telling you to slow down. And given how overcrowded so many of the metro area's major highways, byways and thoroughfares are, efforts to expand them are smart, too.

I can handle occasional inconveniences if I know the resulting improvements will eventually prevent me from going through all seven stags of grief while traveling on I-25 during rush hour.

Problem is, undertakings designed to make commuting better are happening at the same time that new construction projects are sprouting up all over town — and many of them necessitate blockages and/or detours. As a result, sizable portions of the city are left practically paralyzed for weeks or even months at a time.

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Photo by Michael Roberts

Areas in and around River North, captured in the photos that accompany this post, are prime examples. Thanks to the combination of new businesses and the roadwork to accommodate them, streets such as Brighton and Washington have been in turmoil lately, and during morning and evening rush, in particular, getting through the Cole neighborhood, among others, can easily take two or three times as long as usual.

And that's on a good day. We've heard stories about drivers taking the better part of an hour to go only a few blocks.

How dire is this scenario? Last week, commuters trying to escape the chronically clogged environs near Brighton and 38th were actually detoured through downtown — which, as we know, isn't exactly the definition of smooth sailing even during less busy periods.

The suburbs used to offer a respite from such issues, but the explosive growth that's taking place throughout metro Denver is changing that, too, as demonstrated by two recent anecdotes from unincorporated Jefferson County, where I live.

Crews recently tore up the stretch of Ken Caryl Avenue leading up to the C-470 on-ramp in advance of a paving operation. These efforts led to at least a day's worth of delays, as well as the joy of rumbling over grooved pavement for several weeks afterward. Then, when the paving itself finally got under way, alternating lane closures led to mile-long backups along the stretch, which I pass through regularly en route to Westword's Golden Triangle office — and had I not headed out prior to 4 a.m. (my usual schedule), I would have passed through at roughly the rate that a rat passes through the digestive tract of a snake that's swallowed it whole.

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Photo by Michael Roberts

I had the displeasure of an even more irritating wait around noon this past Saturday. I was sailing along eastbound Bowles when suddenly brake lights begin to blink red ahead of me, and I found myself trapped in gridlock without having the slightest idea why. Five minutes of inching along later, I finally got the answer: A construction project had launched the previous day and was scheduled to last until July 31. More time passed before I actually got within view of the mess and discovered that Bowles had been reduced to one lane at the Platte Canyon intersection for no other reason than to provide easier access for heavy equipment chewing up a lot on the corner.

That's right. Nothing was actually going on in the lane itself, but orange cones had been placed there in anticipation of trucks coming and going every once in a while — in stark contrast to me, who was neither coming nor going at all. Instead, I was sitting in place as if posing for an oil painting.

If there's any coordination among the folks behind these various ventures, it's sure as hell not evident to me. Like plenty of people who drive around Denver on the reg, I've had the thrill of slowly working my way through one construction nightmare only to find myself in another one moments later.

At such times, I have plenty of opportunities to fantasize about a world in which officials and entrepreneurs would stagger the timing of their projects so as not to simultaneously start too many of them in close proximity to each other. But that's not the Denver I know in 2017. No wonder so many local drivers use Waze even when they know where they're going. The app is designed to inform commuters when traffic flags — and in the metro area right now, those flags are literal far too often.

Trying to figure out the number of road-impacting projects in Denver at any given time is a fool's errand, since there are so many different public and private entities and municipalities involved. But one indication of the volume is provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation. According to communications manager Tamara Rollison, CDOT has nearly ninety projects for the Denver region on its 2017 schedule.

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Photo by Michael Roberts

Here are key projects under construction or just completed, with explanations provided by Rollison:

North I-25 Express Lanes: CDOT is extending I-25 Express Lanes from from 120th Avenue to Northwest Parkway/E-470.

Express Lanes will be free for carpoolers. Solo drivers can take the Express Lanes to reach their destinations faster in exchange for paying a variable toll. We expect to have the project finished in 2018.

C-470 Express Lanes: The C-470 Express Lanes project will improve travel along 12.5 miles of C-470 between I-25 and Wadsworth Boulevard.

All motorists will have a choice to use the regular lanes for free or drive the Express Lanes if they need to get to their destination faster in exchange for a variable toll. Project completion set for 2019.

I-25 and Santa Fe Interchange: Major interchange rebuild, including bridge replacement at I-25 and Santa Fe. Project wrapped up last month.

I-70 Bridge Replacement over Havana: Project is nearing completion to replace the aging I-70 bridge over Havana Street and other improvements that will enhance safety.

I-25 and Arapahoe Road Interchange: We’re rebuilding the I-25 Bridge over Arapahoe Road and widening travel lanes in the interchange area to ease traffic flow and improve safety. Noise walls are included. Entire project scheduled for completion in 2018.

Rollison also touts the Central 70 Project, which she describes via e-mail as the "BIG one coming up." Lawsuits are trying to prevent the project from getting under way — but even if this litigation is successful, there's more than enough other construction to keep Denverites trapped in their cars, blood boiling, until the weather turns cold again. And even winter storms may not be enough to prevent roadside mayhem from continuing at a crazy pace.

Sorry, Mother Nature — but you could be in the same sorry situation as the rest of us.

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