Outrage Over Central 70 Area Flooding and CDOT's Explanations

A look at a section of Interstate 70 that experienced significant flooding on August 7.
A look at a section of Interstate 70 that experienced significant flooding on August 7. @GabbyENews
Late on August 7, flooding overwhelmed a significant section of Interstate 70 through the Central 70 construction zone, resulting in a temporary highway shutdown and numerous water rescues, as well as plenty of outrage on social media.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is promising to investigate the events while also attempting to reassure Denver residents that what happened shouldn't be a regular occurrence.

"The Central 70 Project is still an active construction project," CDOT stresses in a statement. "Our drainage network is not yet complete, though it is nearing completion. Once our drainage system is fully complete, the lowered section of I-70 where flooding happened this evening is expected to withstand a 100-year storm event."

At 8:12 p.m. on August 7, the Denver Office of Emergency Management tweeted: "Do not try to drive through flooded streets. Currently, I70 is closed between Northfield Quebec St. and Dahlia Street due to #flooding." Two minutes later, the Denver Police Department issued its own alert: "ROAD CLOSED: I-70 is closed in both directions between York and Steele due to flooding. Alternate routes are advised."

Westword spoke to a driver who discovered this situation before either of these bulletins was issued: my daughter, Ellie Roberts. After a day in the mountains, she and her fiancé approached the area before any emergency crews had arrived and could immediately see that the situation was already highly dangerous; some drivers were abandoning their cars amid the torrents of water. The two were able to turn around and avoid getting stuck in the quagmire just as the highway was being closed and rescue personnel arrived on the scene. But getting home took about an extra hour because of the traffic chaos caused by the deluge.

Here are some clips of the mess from Fox31 journalists Joshua Short and Gabby Eastwood. The highway was reopened at around 10 p.m. August 7.
Updated statistics from the Denver Fire Department confirm that eleven people were rescued from their vehicles in the area of I-70 and York, including three children. In addition, eight people were saved from a minivan that had become incapacitated beneath an overpass at 38th and Blake — among them an infant and multiple children.

Other notable rescues took place at 46th and Washington, where crews assisted three people; 23rd and Colorado, where one person was helped to safety and others managed to self-extricate; and 14th and Krameria, which notched six rescues. Overall, the DFD received 78 calls for service between 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on August 7 and conducted 29 rescues. No injuries were reported.

Twitter exploded with vitriol about what went down, especially given that the storm, while vigorous, hardly seemed historic; just over two inches of rain reportedly fell in less than thirty minutes. The reactions are summed up by this tweet: "Why did Denver move I-70 underground if floods like this could happen so easily?"

The response that CDOT shared with news organizations acknowledges that "every construction project runs the risk of flooding while it's in an interim phase. To help offset flooding from a system that is not yet complete, our contractor, Kiewit, is able to mobilize to help pump water out. The Central 70 Project is going to conduct a thorough investigation to determine what exactly caused the flooding this evening."

The statement adds: "Fortunately, as an active construction project, if there are any system failures, we are able to go in and remediate any issues that occurred during this event. However, without conducting the investigation, we do not know if there was a system failure. We do know that 46th South Avenue is currently being constructed as a part of our Project between Brighton Boulevard and York Street above I-70, directly above where the flooding in the lowered section occurred. This section is not yet paved, creating exceptionally muddy conditions that may have contributed to flooding. This is one area that we are going to be looking at during our investigation."

In the meantime, CDOT stresses that safety is its "number-one priority. ... We will do what it takes to help prevent something like this from happening again in the future."

This post has been updated to include rescue statistics from the Denver Fire Department.
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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