COVID-19 May Help Colorado Highway Projects Get Done Faster

Volume on highways through metro Denver has been radically reduced during the stay-at-home order.
Volume on highways through metro Denver has been radically reduced during the stay-at-home order. 9News via YouTube
The impact of COVID-19 on Denver and Colorado as a whole has been devastating. But there may be at least one positive to emerge from the flood of negatives: Because of radically lower highway volume resulting from stay-at-home orders put in place late last month, highway projects in the Denver area and beyond are making unexpected progress, raising hopes that they may be completed ahead of schedule.

"It's too early to tell at this point if projects will wrap up sooner than normal," acknowledges Tamara Rollison, Region 1 communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation. But she also confirms that more work is getting done during prime daytime hours, thanks to lane closures that would cause nightmare gridlock under ordinary circumstances.

Colorado's stay-at-home order officially ended on April 26 and has been replaced by Safer at Home, a policy that continues to encourage as much telecommuting as possible to increase the odds of successful social distancing at workplaces. Moreover, Denver and several other counties on or near the urban corridor, including Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson, have extended their stay-at-home orders until May 8. As a result, the number of vehicles on the highway system in metro Denver remains much lower than average, albeit with occasional slowdowns now popping up.

To take advantage of this situation, Rollison notes, "we are conducting daytime closures on certain projects," including C-470 and Central 70, among others. Moreover, the department is doing so without issuing announcements days in advance, replete with detour information and the like, since the disruptions have been so minor.

"On our highly traveled interstates and roadways, such as C-470, we usually limit lane closures to off-peak nighttime hours," she explains. "Due to much lower traffic volumes, we are conducting single-lane closures on C-470 during the day. As long as the weather is good and traffic volumes are down, the contractor will continue single-lane closures during the day for finishing work, such as striping, painting and sealing. More significant closures will continue during the night hours."

On top of that, Rollison continues, "we are also doing daytime work on U.S. 36 from Federal Boulevard to Pecos Street for pavement rehabilitation work. Normally, this work would take place at night, but due to lower traffic volumes, we are able to get a lot of work done in the day. There are also some daytime single-lane closures on the I-25 South Gap project. While night work continues, we are able to do some work during the day as well. The Central 70 Project is also conducting daytime lane closures in the east segment between Quebec and Chambers Road for paving operations. We've also been able to do extended ramp closures for utility relocations while there are fewer vehicles on the roadway. We take each project on a case-by-case basis to determine if daytime work is beneficial."

This additional work is being conducted in the safest manner possible, Rollison stresses: "More important than anything is the health of crew members. While construction continues, we strictly adhere to social distancing and COVID-19 prevention measures. This includes crews working individually as much as possible, in smaller work groups, with social distancing in place. Crew members wear face coverings and follow sanitation procedures."

So far, though, observing proper protocols has not put up insurmountable roadblocks. "We are getting important work done," she concludes, "but health comes first, followed by construction and continuity of operations."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts