Editor's note: This is the most recent entry in an ongoing series about Colorado Department of Transportation projects that will impact commuters in the Denver area and beyond. Click to read about Central 70, I-25 North, I-25 South Gap and an update about construction on C-470.
In addition to a batch of major projects expected to break ground soon on Interstate 25 and Interstate 70 in or near major population centers on the Eastern Slope, the Colorado Department of Transportation is outlining improvements it would like to make to the I-70 mountain corridor from Floyd Hill to the Veterans Memorial Tunnels outside of Idaho Springs.
While CDOT Region 1 communications manager Stacia Sellers admits the department hasn't yet secured funding for the undertaking, which is estimated to cost $550 million, she makes it clear why the area has been designated as a future priority.
"Right now, as we all know, congestion on the I-70 mountain corridor is awful, especially during weekends in the summer or winter, or peak travel times in the morning or evening," she points out. "Holidays are also especially bad. Sometimes it can take up to two hours for folks to travel from C-470 to the Eisenhower Tunnel, and that kind of gridlock creates problems for communities in the area, too. It's hard for people who live in Idaho Springs or Silver Plume to leave where they live."
In addition, Sellers notes, "We have an aging bridge at the bottom of Floyd Hill that's reached its life span. It's on our list of structurally deficient bridges."
If that sounds as if the bridge is about to collapse at any moment, Sellers offers reassurances. "We're doing routine maintenance and rehabilitation projects on our structurally deficient bridges to extend their life spans. The public's not in any danger — and if there was any sense of danger, we would close it down and route traffic another way. But once we have the opportunity to replace it, we would like to do so."
She adds: "What we're seeing now is more potholes and some holes in the bridge decks that require a lot more maintenance than we would like to have in that particular location. So to save money in the future and have less maintenance work going on with that bridge, we'd like to replace it entirely."
Other challenges revolve around the geography of this stretch.
"Once you're passing westbound, you have a very steep grade," Sellers says. "You'll have trucks in the right lane and people trying to pass the trucks in the left lane, and then everybody slams on their brakes because it's so steep you pick up speed. Then, at the bottom of Floyd Hill, after you've picked up all that speed, you have a tight curve, and then you have another tight curve, which causes slowdowns and potential safety issues."
The proposed solution: "We want to take westbound I-70 off its current alignment and put it through a tunnel at the bottom of Floyd Hill that would extend to just east of the Hidden Valley interchange" to Central City.
The following CDOT video details this particular plan and plenty of others.
Another major component of the plan, Sellers goes on, "is constructing a frontage road from U.S. 6 to Idaho Springs. That will be another way to alleviate congestion and also help with local traffic, so they can get around better. Although we expect some highway travel will probably use it, it's really for local traffic.
"We're also looking at completing a link of the shared-use trail from the Clear Creek Greenway to the Peak to Plains Trail in Jefferson County," she continues. "That's part of Governor Hickenlooper's Colorado Trails Initiative, and it will complete the trail from the Veterans Memorial Tunnels to the interchange."
She explains that CDOT "doesn't work on all trails, but we do maintain and work on some of them. And our overall goal is for a trail to connect metro Denver over the Continental Divide."
Meanwhile, a separate but related project — this one with an $80 million price tag — is also on the drawing board.
According to Sellers, "We would like to construct a westbound I-70 shoulder lane, a mountain express lane, from the Veterans Memorial Tunnels to Empire Junction. That would counteract the congestion outside the project limits and would match what we're seeing from the eastbound I-70 mountain express lanes," which opened a couple of years back between Empire and Floyd Hill.
The eastbound express lanes have actually had a positive effect on commute times, as Sellers acknowledges: "They really have helped trip-time reliability. There's still congestion, but the lanes have been a huge benefit."
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The westbound mountain express lanes will likely be the first of these concepts to become reality. "As soon as funding is identified, we'd like to start construction on them in the spring or summer of 2019," Sellers says.
Before then, CDOT has planned a public meeting about the Floyd Hill proposition from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12, at Clear Creek High School, 185 Beaver Brook Canyon Road in Evergreen.
If attendees and others in the region support the plan, the folks at CDOT will be ready to go — as soon as they locate more than half a billion dollars.
Click to visit the Colorado Department of Transportation page highlighting the I-70 Floyd Hill to Veterans Memorial Tunnels improvements proposal.