The bad news: The C-470 express-lanes project, one of the biggest headache-inducing traffic challenges in the metro area, probably won't be completed before this summer, more than a year after its original completion date.
The good news: A couple of months before tolling goes into effect, drivers using the roughly 12.5 mile span from the Wadsworth Boulevard exit to the intersection of C-470 and Interstate 25 will be able to try out the additions to the roadway for free.
"Once initial testing is done, we will open the new lanes to traffic," says Tamara Rollison, Region 1 communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation. "We'll need to conduct testing of the tolling system with live traffic, and that will go on for a while — and while it is, tolls will be waived."
Dates related to the C-470 upgrade have been fuzzy for ages. A November 2016 CDOT fact sheet about the effort states that construction would begin that fall, but for our May 2018 update about the completion of major milestones on the highway, CDOT's Stacia Sellers put the actual start date at August 2017. However, Sellers stuck with the fact sheet's completion date of spring 2019, approximately a year from then.
That didn't happen, and late last summer, CDOT acknowledged this tardiness by way of a statement that seemed to throw shade at Flatiron and AECOM, the undertaking's two major contractors. It reads: "As has been reported and the traveling public can continue to see, the C-470 Tolled Express Lanes project was not completed by its August 1, 2019 deadline. CDOT and the project contractor, Flatiron-AECOM, will proceed through proper legal channels to resolve the issues that brought the project to this point. All parties involved share the goal of delivering a high-quality, safe road for Coloradans as soon as possible."
When asked last September whether spring 2019 or August 1 was the original completion target, CDOT's Matt Inzeo replied, "'Original' is a tricky word. There have been some additional back-and-forths, but August 1 was the scheduled completion date." After a pause, he added, "The claim of delay came from the contractors, and I can't speak for them. But we wanted this project to be completed on August 1, and it wasn't."
Back then, CDOT predicted that everything would finally be wrapped up between December and spring of 2020. Obviously, the former time frame has already come and gone, and the latter looks iffy in the extreme despite some notable progress achieved by way of vigorous nighttime work (and assorted closures that have accompanied it).
In Rollison's words, "The project is about 90 percent complete and concrete paving is nearly 100 percent complete. The focus now is to complete paving work of the new lanes and interchange improvements."
Ongoing efforts are summarized like so:
• Although work continues throughout the corridor the major work is occurring at the interchange of I-25/E-470 affecting northbound, southbound, eastbound and westbound ramps
• Overhead signage is being placed throughout the project
• Concrete paving operations are ongoing
• Traffic switches are occurring throughout the project
• Some extended nighttime closures will continue through the duration of the project
• Intelligent Transportation System work continues, and initial testing is complete
• Drainage and grading continues, as does permanent and temporary striping
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Once the new lanes are completed, CDOT will test the tolling equipment, which is expected to take up to two months. After that, the new lanes will be open to live traffic, needed to make even more certain that everything is operating properly — a process that could stretch out for a month or two longer at no cost to drivers. Only then would tolling begin in earnest.
For very understandable reasons, including the vagaries of potential weather-related delays, Rollison shies away from getting more specific about when all the work that must precede testing will be completed. Then tack on around four more months — and that's if all goes well.
Still, Rollison doesn't want anyone thinking the folks at CDOT are dragging their feet when it comes to C-470. "With this project," she says, "our key priority is to get it done and get it open for the public."
Click to access the Colorado Department of Transportation's C-470 Express Lanes project page.