The Colorado Department of Transportation and the two major contractors working on the C-470 Express Lanes project, which launched in August 2017 and has made driving on an increasingly busy section of highway in the southern metro area a major pain for more than two years, won't be finished until sometime between late 2019 and mid-2020. But CDOT insists that this delay shouldn't be seen as an indication that other enormous department undertakings will take longer than anticipated, too, even though Central 70, whose completion date was already fuzzy, just got pushed back and now isn't expected to wrap until early 2023.
"There are various contractors working on other projects across the state," stresses Matt Inzeo, CDOT's communications director. "And the completion issue that has come up with C-470 only relates to C-470."
That's the closest Inzeo comes to casting aspersions upon Flatiron and AECOM, the companies adding two tolled express lanes on westbound C-470 from Interstate 25 to Colorado Boulevard and constructing single tolled express lanes to the east and west along a 12.5-mile span that will run to Wadsworth Boulevard. The two firms have not responded to Westword's interview requests, leaving their only communication on the subject a statement they released in conjunction with CDOT:
As has been reported and the travelling 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.
Problem is, that August 1 date hasn't exactly been solid, either. When we detailed the project in May 2018 prior to temporary closures put into place to facilitate traffic shifts described as significant milestones, then-CDOT communications manager Stacia Sellers told us everything would be wrapped up by the spring of 2019, approximately a year from then.
So what was the original completion date? "'Original' is a tricky word," Inzeo maintains. "There have been some additional back-and-forths, but August 1 was the scheduled completion date." After a pause, he adds, "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."
True enough. On that date, the construction zone remained as hazardous as ever, and that's still the case today. Lanes bordered by concrete barriers seem more like bobsled runs than parts of a modern highway. And the clunky switchbacks through this stretch make safely navigating them an iffy proposition, especially during those times when semi-trucks are trying to do likewise — and poor or erratic lighting through areas where work is ongoing doubles the degree of difficulty at night.
Such complaints haven't reached Inzeo's ears. "Work zones are always an issue, and we always encourage the public to be careful as they travel through them," he says. "But in that context, I'm not aware of any unique issues with this construction site relative to other construction sites."
In the meantime, CDOT's latest estimates call for the project to be finished somewhere between this December and June 2020 — a notably wide target that's reportedly prompted the Fitch Ratings credit agency to put a negative watch warning on bonds funding the improvements.
Inzeo adds: "I think top-line for the driving public right now is that we're doing what we can to act in the drivers' interest and get a safe, quality road open quickly."
Problem is, "quickly" is a tricky word....
Click to access the Colorado Department of Transportation's C-470 Express Lanes project page.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.