CDOT has announced a $550 million plan to improve, expand westbound I-70 near Floyd Hill
May 18, 2018
Colorado Department of Transportation officials unveiled plans for what might be a very expensive pie in the sky on Tuesday — a $550 million partial expansion and renovation of westbound Interstate 70.
The plan would replace a steep, tricky two-lane curve and bridge at the US-6 interchange with a three-lane tunnel through Floyd Hill. That's if the funding arrives.
Any unfortunate soul who has tried to get to the high country from Denver during high-season rush hour knows the agony of sitting in snarling, hours-long traffic jams. During peak season, 35,000 to 42,000 cars travel west along I-70. In July 2016, over 1.3 million cars made their way west through the Eisenhower Tunnel.
CDOT has been working with local stakeholders on concepts to alleviate congestion along the corridor since it signed a 2011 Record of Decision, which envisioned six-lane capacity, a shared-use trail and frontage roads from Idaho Springs to US 6. The current plan is the result of years of study and discussion with stakeholders.
"We are currently looking at improvements from the top of Floyd Hill to the Veteran Memorial Tunnels," said Stacia Sellers, communications manager for CDOT Region 1. "We're going to eliminate some of those tight curves and help improve the line of sight to improve safety."
In line with that vision, CDOT plans to bore a tunnel through Floyd Hill and realign the westbound lanes through it.
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"We're also planning to replace the bridge at the bottom of Floyd Hill that has reached end of lifespan, and putting the highway through mountain," Sellers said, adding that the realignment will be a "big improvement."
"Taking a section of I-70 through the tunnel prevents motorists being affected by winter weather conditions, as well as protect wildlife crossings."
Sellers also said that the plan would flatten some of the troublesome curves and steep grades that lead to white-knuckle driving during the winter, as well as improve line of sight and walls for drivers to more confidently traverse the pass. Additionally, a shared-use trail will be expanded from Floyd Hill to Idaho Springs as part of Gov. John Hickenlooper's Colorado Trails Initiative.
Unfortunately, CDOT doesn't have $550 million to start the project. In fact, the agency is already dealing with a $10 billion project backlog. The expansion is probably years away, if it does not get modified or scrapped before then. However, CDOT sees the unveiling as a significant step toward eventually taming congestion along the thoroughfare.
In the meantime, CDOT has unveiled a short-term solution to help with congestion in the form of a westbound Mountain Express Lane from the Veteran Memorial Tunnels to Empire that would mirror the eastbound toll lane created a few years ago. The project has a price tag of $80 million, and Sellers said that if funding is found for that project, construction is expected to begin in Spring/Summer 2019. Sellers said that an express lane is a promising temporary solution given the success CDOT has seen with the eastbound toll lane.
"People are saving a lot of time on the eastbound express lane, and it's really created a reliable trip-time experience," Sellers said. "Some people are saving up to 20 minutes on their eastbound commute. The lane also cuts down on congestion by opening up the bottleneck during peak times."
CDOT will be holding a public meeting to discuss the Floyd Hill improvements on June 12, 5 to 7 p.m. at Clear Creek High School. All members of the public are invited to provide input.