Denver commuters can still expect another few years of congestion, closures and other traffic headaches along central stretches of Interstate 70, and nearby residents are still in for a lot of further disruptions. But nearly one year into a four-year timeline, officials overseeing the $1.2 billion Central 70 project say the work is going smoothly.
“We’re on schedule,” Keith Stefanik, Central 70 project director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday, June 12. “We’re really getting into the heart of construction, to really see what we’re shooting for, but right now, we’re still on schedule.”
CDOT officials have targeted March 2022 as the date of “substantial completion” of the project, which began construction last July. The agency plans to keep three lanes in each direction open during rush hours for the duration, but nighttime lane closures and occasional full closures of sections of the interstate are planned.
The first of those weekend shutdowns came in early April, and Stefanik said Wednesday that the next is tentatively scheduled for late July or August, as crews complete construction on a new flyover structure at the I-70 and I-270 interchange. CDOT’s agreement with contractor Kiewit Meridiam Partners authorizes four weekend closures total, as well as ten overnight closures, during the construction period.
Completion of the new I-270 flyover later this year will mark an early milestone for the project, and the end of the most disruptive work scheduled for I-70’s eastern stretches. Other construction activities under way this month include the rebuilding of interchanges at Brighton and Colorado boulevards, and the construction of new bridges at Monroe and Steele streets.
Those new bridges will span the Central 70 project’s most ambitious new feature: a lowered section between Brighton and Colorado boulevards that will replace the interstate’s aging viaduct and be covered, in one portion, by a four-acre park between Columbine and Clayton streets. Excavation along the 1.5-mile stretch is under way, but the lowered section isn’t expected to open until late 2020 or early 2021.
Excavation and bridge construction will occur this summer along a stretch just a few yards from Swansea Elementary School, putting a spotlight on one of the more controversial aspects of the project. From the earliest rumblings of a potential overhaul more than a decade ago, I-70’s reconstruction has drawn pushback from community and environmental groups worried about its impact on residents in neighborhoods like Elyria-Swansea, predominantly Latino fenceline communities that occupy what has long been one of the most polluted zip codes in the country.
During the construction phase, the principal public-health concern surrounding the project is airborne dust and particle pollution kicked up by excavation and other activities, which can cause a wide range of respiratory and other health problems for nearby residents. According to CDOT officials, crews are employing dust-mitigation practices that include wetting soil and adding layers of stabilizing compounds within the project's construction sites — and Denver's wet spring has helped, too.
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"The rain is a physical mitigation itself, so it keeps the moisture in the dirt, and you don't have as much dust," said Stefanik.
As part of a community settlement agreement reached last December, CDOT agreed to contribute $550,000 for a public-health study and to install air-quality monitoring systems at four points along the interstate. Stefanik said Wednesday that the monitors haven’t yet detected any significant air-quality issues.
“They’ve been up and running since almost the beginning of this year,” he said. “We had a few that were a little reactive to the fog and some of the moisture we’ve been getting. We’ve had those systems replaced, and since we’ve got the new ones online, we haven’t had any major alerts.”
Real-time air-quality data from the project's monitoring systems are posted online. Commuters can sign up to receive alerts about upcoming traffic impacts on the project's website, or by texting Central70 to 77948.