A section of Interstate 70 through Denver will be completely closed for the entire weekend, with the shutdown between Interstate 270 and the Steele/Vasquez exit beginning at 10 p.m. tonight, September 20, and continuing until 5 a.m. Monday, September 23. The result is another nightmare scenario for motorists requiring detours described below, and the timing of the move is more than a little surprising.
Why? The Colorado Department of Transportation's contract for the massive Central 70 project, which broke ground in August 2018, allows just four complete weekend closures over the course of the entire effort, which was originally hoped to achieve "substantial completion" in four years. (That goal is already in doubt: Earlier this month, CDOT moved back its ballpark finish date of September 2022 to that December.) Since the first of the stoppages took place in April, CDOT will have burned through half of its pledged total in just five months.
The need for occasional full closures was first outlined for us by Rebecca White, Central 70's communications director, in April 2018. According to her, "One of the major restrictions we put on the contractor with this project is that because Interstate 70 is an economic backbone for the state, they can't close any lanes during daylight hours. Up until 7 p.m., they have to keep three lanes running in either direction." However, this reference was to weekdays. White emphasized that its contractors "have only a set number of weekend and overnight full closures."
The spring shutdown earned widespread criticism, with CDOT accused of not giving motorists enough of a heads-up about the inconvenience being foisted upon them. This time around, the department pushed out its messaging sooner and is trying to tamp down frustration by suggesting that its approach should minimize problems over the long haul. A CDOT statement maintains that "full weekend closures allow construction crews to complete work that could potentially take months of nightly lane closures in just one weekend" and adds that "in light of the start of football season, the Central 70 team worked to schedule this full weekend closure around Broncos home games as to avoid creating unnecessary impacts due to the closure." (The Broncos visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.)
The main tasks being tackled this weekend involve the setting of girders for the replacement bridge over I-70 at Colorado Boulevard, as well as the start of I-270 bridge demolition. Here's a CDOT graphic showing the closed section and how drivers will be rerouted in order to get around it:
Specifically, westbound travelers will take northbound I-270, then use the off-ramp to I-76 heading west. They'll then exit onto southbound Interstate 25 before transitioning onto westbound I-70 again.
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Eastbounders, meanwhile, will take northbound I-25 to eastbound I-76 before flowing onto southbound I-270 and continuing to the eastbound I-270 exit. The department adds that drivers wanting to enter I-70 prior to reaching Steele/Vasquez will still be able to do so.
It's worth noting that opponents of the Central 70 project have advocated for these detours to become the major east-west highway routes through Denver. Likewise, the 2019 "Freeways Without Futures" study by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Congress for the New Urbanism argues in favor of replacing I-70 with a boulevard through the Central 70 construction zone and rerouting the interstate onto I-270 and I-76 because they generally run through commercial and industrial areas as opposed to actual neighborhoods.
CDOT rejects these ideas and remains bullish on Central 70. But wrapping it up without further delays — and without breaking its just-four-full-weekend-closures promise — could prove to be the latest in a slew of challenges.
To get text alerts about the Central 70 project, text Central70 to 77948. To sign up for email updates or learn more about traffic impacts, visit c70.codot.gov. And click to view the project's webcams.