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How York Ramp Closure Did (or Didn't) Cause Neighborhood Traffic Nightmare

A look at the now permanently closed York Street on-ramp to westbound Interstate 70.
A look at the now permanently closed York Street on-ramp to westbound Interstate 70.
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The Central 70 project, which is projected to take at least five years to complete, and probably more, is already having a major negative impact on a number of nearby communities, including Elyria-Swansea.

But it's only one of several construction projects under way in the area, and as a result, no one can be entirely sure from one day to the next which of them is causing what traffic nightmare.

Here's a particularly telling example.

A week or so ago, the York Street on-ramp to westbound Interstate 70 was permanently closed as part of Central 70's first stage, and shortly thereafter, the volume of traffic in a neighborhood around the intersection of 35th and Lafayette increased exponentially.

We've heard about at least two cars being sideswiped in hit-and-runs caused by cars jockeying for position in streets far too narrow for the number of vehicles flooding them. During morning and evening commutes, the roadways have been clogged by drivers looking for shortcuts and failing to find them.

The drive from this area to the Washington ramp onto I-70 used to take in the seven-to-ten-minute range on most afternoons. Now, we're told that getting to the highway in "just" 25 minutes feels like a rare triumph.

Indeed, those who live and work in the area fear that the mounting frustration of those stuck in virtual gridlock is going to result in someone getting killed — which is why at least one person employed at a local school has requested an increase in police patrols through the area.

We shared these observations with Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gabi Dyer. She hadn't heard any complaints of the sort we described, and after checking with members of her team, she suggested that the York ramp closure might not have been their root cause.

Instead, she suggested that the issues could have been related to current work on the 39th Avenue Greenway & Open Channel project, which is described on its City of Denver web page as creating "a new twelve-acre recreational greenway with a multi-use trail between Franklin and Steele streets while reducing flood risk to nearby homes and businesses."

The following video provides an introduction to the undertaking:

The 39th Avenue Greenway effort is certainly in close proximity to the latest switch-ups on Central 70. Note that those who previously entered I-70 traffic using the York ramp are now being directed to take 46th Avenue east to Steele and using the Steele/Vasquez Boulevard on-ramp instead.

On top of that, traffic on York between 38th and 41st was reduced from two lanes to one lane in both directions between October 10 and October 21 in order to install waterlines in preparation for the York Street Bridge, a key 39th Avenue Greenway component. And that's not to mention current construction on 39th Avenue from High Street west to Downing.

Dyer stresses that CDOT regularly communicates and coordinates with the folks in charge of the 39th Avenue Greenway operation, as well as others in the vicinity. But all the changes, and the speed with which they're happening, can lead to driver irritation, particularly when an alternate route that worked one day is suddenly closed the next.

Many folks we've spoken to in the area complain about a lack of signage telling them where to go, but Dyer suggests that putting up more placards could actually cause greater difficulties. In her words, "We don't want sign pollution, because that can get super-confusing. But we do have traffic-control plans that we follow. They're approved by CDOT and the City and County of Denver prior to us implementing them, so that we can make sure there aren't overlapping details."
The various entities also regularly update an online Google Map showing how to navigate north Denver from day to day — and as you can see by the embed below, the potential obstacles are hardly in short supply.

North Denver drivers should regularly consult online resources like this one, Dyer argues — and there are plenty of possible viewers.

"We have more than 200,000 motorists who travel Interstate 70 on an average day," she says, "and the growth can't accommodate for the existing footprint and keep motorists safe. Something had to be done, and that's why we're doing it — because of safety concerns."

In the meantime, though, Central 70 continues to more forward.

"We're starting some traffic shifts on the east end of the project," Dyer points out, "and folks will start to see more active construction and workers out there. That's why we ask that they follow posted speed limits, avoid distractions and stay connected with us before they hit the road. We have the Central 70 website, and we send out text alerts, weekly e-blasts and monthly newsletters in addition to social-media posts and all that stuff. We want them to know what's coming next."

To that end, we've included a list of what to expect November 1-8, complete with a pair of links, as well as this teaser: The York Street exit ramp on eastbound I-70 is marked for closure, too, albeit not for a couple of years.

So you'll have some time to anticipate unintended consequences for which it might, or might not, be to blame.

A graphic related to the York Street ramp's closure offering alternative routes.
A graphic related to the York Street ramp's closure offering alternative routes.
Colorado Department of Transportation

Upcoming Work: Nov. 1-8

• York Street at the Union Pacific Railroad crossing (just north of 47th Avenue) will be closed.

• Night time general construction will occur at:

• Brighton Boulevard near the I-70 intersection

• York Street between 45th and 47th avenues

• Steele Street/Vasquez Boulevard near I-70

• Road between High and Gaylord streets (north of 46th Avenue)

• I-70 between Quebec Street and I-225 Interchange

• I-70 at the Peoria Street Interchange

Ongoing Closures

• York Street on-ramp westbound I-70 is permanently closed as part of I-70 final design and to construct the new Union Pacific Railroad bridge.

• 46th Avenue between Brighton Boulevard and York Street. Use I-70 to navigate east and west in this area. See the fact sheet.

• Road north of 46th Avenue between High and Gaylord streets. Access to properties from 47th Avenue is maintained. See the fact sheet.

• Brighton Boulevard between 44th Street and I-70 is closed as drainage pipe is installed. This closure will continue through October. All ramps to I-70 from Brighton Boulevard remain open.

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