I-70 Lane Shift May Cause Biggest Driver Freakout Yet

In this Colorado Department of Transportation graphic, yellow represents westbound I-70 lanes and blue depicts eastbound I-70 lanes.
In this Colorado Department of Transportation graphic, yellow represents westbound I-70 lanes and blue depicts eastbound I-70 lanes. Colorado Department of Transportation
Editor's note: At 9:56 a.m. today, February 6, after the publication of this post, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced that it had postponed the lane shift on Interstate 70 scheduled for 10 p.m. tonight due to weather. The agency promises that it will announce new dates for the work soon. Continue for our previous coverage.

At 10 p.m. tonight, February 6, the much-used westbound Interstate 70 off-ramp to Brighton Boulevard and two westbound lanes will be closed. And when they reopen at approximately 5:30 a.m. the next morning, drivers will be faced with what's arguably the biggest change to date related to the Central 70 project, which got underway in 2018.

The aforementioned I-70 westbound lanes will shift south into the old eastbound lanes.

While the Colorado Department of Transportation has plenty of major projects underway (including C-470 express lanes construction, which is expected to be completed at least a year late), none of them are as massive as Central 70. Indeed, CDOT's original timeline estimated that the work to rebuild a ten-mile section of the interstate, add a new express lane in each direction, remove a viaduct and lower the roadway between Brighton and Colorado boulevards would take four to five years — an estimate whose vagueness spoke volumes.

So, too, did not one but two full weekend I-70 closures in 2019 — the first in April, the second in September. Note that there are only supposed to be four full weekend closures over the length of the entire undertaking, which isn't expected to wrap up until December 2022.

Is a third weekend closure in the offing? We don't know yet, but according to CDOT, tonight's shift "will allow crews to demolish portions of the I-70 bridge over Brighton Boulevard, which is currently scheduled for a weekend in mid-February."

Effects on traffic during the overnight hours could be considerable. Motorists accustomed to taking the westbound I-70 ramp are advised to use Washington Street as an alternate route. Meanwhile, the double lane closure on westbound I-70 at Brighton won't put the kibosh on all westbound traffic in that area, but only one lane of traffic will remain open that way.

After 5:30 a.m. tomorrow, three lanes of traffic will be available in each direction, but the shift will almost certainly throw off a significant percentage of drivers who routinely take the route. After all, even minor changes can cause commuting problems. As ignominious former traffic reporter Sam Hammer told us back in 1999, "It doesn't take much to slow down traffic. Plant a new bush on the highway and people will slow down and go, 'Look, Martha, a new bush.'"

Then again, they'll likely have plenty of time to grow accustomed to the new configuration. CDOT points out that it will remain in place for "an extended period of time."

Click to access the Central 70 project page and updates about traffic impacts.
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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