Westbound I-70 express lane from Idaho Springs to Empire Junction secures project funding | VailDaily.com

Westbound I-70 express lane from Idaho Springs to Empire Junction secures project funding

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily News

Congestion relief for the high country commute is on the way, as Rep. Jared Polis announced Tuesday, June 5, that he has helped secure $25 million in federal grant money to help build a westbound express lane on the busy mountain corridor. The project is slated to begin construction in summer 2019 and be completed by fall 2020.

"This grant will go a long way in alleviating traffic on I-70 west, making it easier to get up to the mountains we all love and rely on for our economic vitality," Polis said in a news release announcing the funding. "I'm proud to have helped secure this funding for the highway in my district. When the Colorado delegation works together to advocate for Colorado, as we did here, we can move mountains (and traffic)."

The westbound express lane will mirror the existing eastbound express lane. It will convert 12 miles of shoulder lane between the Veterans Memorial Tunnel and Empire Junction into an express lane, expanding existing lanes from two to three during designated peak times. Dynamic pricing will be used, meaning the toll will get steeper as traffic builds up.

'Working out great'

Colorado Department of Transportation Region 1 spokesperson Stacia Sellers said the eastbound express lane has been a success and shaved an average of 20 minutes off commute time into Denver during rush hour. She envisions similar time-saving benefits for commutes on the westbound lane.

"The eastbound lane has been working out great," Sellers said. "Aside for cutting down on congestion and creating reliable traffic times, one of the benefits of a westbound express lane will be to cut down on emergency response time. If there's a major accident or other problem, it will reduce the amount of time to get help out there."

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CDOT announced the possibility of a westbound express lane in mid-May along with the agency's ambitious future $550 million plan to expand westbound I-70 by building a tunnel through Floyd Hill. The westbound mountain express lane was floated as a short-term congestion fix while the agency finds the funding for its bigger vision for the highway.

At peak season, westbound I-70 can see as many as 42,000 vehicles climbing into the mountains each day, with June 2016 alone seeing 1.3 million westbound vehicles pass through the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Sellers said the express lane will offer more room for all that traffic, as well as give some relief to locals in the area who need to get around.

"We've been trying to figure out what's best for the communities, as well as the traveling public," Sellers said. "We are especially hoping to see it will help with local access. Folks who live in Idaho Springs or Silverplume will be have a better experience getting home or getting to their next destination with more reliable travel times and less gridlock to deal with."

Funding for the Westbound I-70 Peak Period Shoulder Lane Project was included in a $100 million project package from various state and federal funding sources. The package also includes improvements to the State Highway 103 interchange, construction of a Fall River Road bridge, improvements to Greenway Trail and reconstruction of County Road 314.

The $25 million in federal grant money comes from the Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program. Polis spearheaded the grant effort with support from other lawmakers and local stakeholders. CDOT said the INFRA money will be matched with $69.5 million from the state through Senate Bill 17-267 (Sustainability of Rural Colorado) and $5 million from Clear Creek County.