Delays have pushed the expected completion date of the $1.2 billion overhaul of Interstate 70 in north Denver a total of nine months past the original target of March 2022. But officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation say they still hope to regain some of that lost time.
“We have a lot of opportunity to re-phase, to figure some things out to get those months back,” says Central 70 project director Keith Stefanik, who briefed reporters during a project update on Wednesday, November 6. “It’s not a delay in stone right now. I call it a delay on paper.”
A progress report filed in September by contractor Kiewit-Meridiam Partners estimated a three-month delay relating to a dispute with Union Pacific Railroad over the design of a railroad bridge that the project must rebuild. That delay came on top of the six-month extension in an adjusted project schedule approved by CDOT earlier this year, and pushed its “substantial completion” date to December 2022.
Union Pacific approved the final bridge design last month, and with construction on many of the project’s most critical elements now under way, officials are hopeful that they can find ways to speed things up.
"We're working right now to mitigate that as much as possible," Stefanik told reporters Wednesday. "We’re meeting with [Union Pacific] to take a look at how we can accelerate some things and gain some more time."
The new railroad bridge is a key step toward the project's most dramatic change — the removal of I-70’s aging viaduct, shifting traffic down into a new, lowered section between Brighton and Colorado boulevards. Crews are currently excavating the 1.5-mile stretch, which bisects the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, and have completed several bridges under which the interstate will eventually run. Factoring in delays, demolition of the viaduct is tentatively scheduled for spring 2021.
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I-70 reconstruction has been a controversial topic since the project was first proposed nearly two decades ago. At a public hearing on the project's noise variance earlier this year, residents in Elyria-Swansea and nearby Globeville — predominantly low-income and Latino communities that have long suffered from the effects of industrial pollution — reported continued impacts from construction, including low, rumbling vibrations that they said kept them up at night and potentially posed a risk to their homes.
Officials with the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment are currently studying the vibration issue. While Central 70 officials acknowledged Wednesday that certain construction activities, like asphalt paving, can have “vibratory impacts,” they said the project has not received any formal complaints about construction vibration in 2019.
There's at least one welcome piece of news for I-70 commuters: The highway's next full weekend closure isn't likely to come until spring 2020. So far, the project has instituted two weekend shutdowns out of the four authorized by CDOT's agreement with Kiewit — but as the project's timetable continues to evolve, Stefanik raised the possibility of seeking approval for more.
"We're seeing how those are going, seeing how they affect traffic," he says. "Every time we have a closure, we get a lot of work done, and we're able to make up some schedule. So we'll be evaluating over the remaining three years of construction to see if those weekend closures, if we had a few more, how much would that help us?"