Colorado ramps up for another big I-70 project

CDOT planning major highway improvements in 2014.

Peak-period shoulder toll lane to ease eastbound congestion; CDOT hopes to finish the work by 2015

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As soon as they finish with the current I-70 construction around the Twin Tunnel segment, Colorado Department of Transportation engineers will set their sights on another project aimed at easing eastbound traffic congestion on the busy Colorado east-west interstate.

A nine-mile section of peak-period shoulder lanes from Empire Junction to the Twin Tunnels could loosen up Sunday afternoon traffic jams by providing three lanes from the junction all the way back to Denver, said CDOT mountain corridor manager Jim Bemelen.

The estimated cost for improving the shoulders is about $30 million, and funding for the project has been approved as part of a statewide $560 million slate of upgrades under the Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) program, announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper and CDOT director Don Hunt this week.

“It’s a third of the cost of the Twin Tunnels project or less and will bring a bigger benefit,” Bemelen said. The goal is to finish the project by the summer of 2015, with construction starting in the summer 2014.

The new eastbound lane will only be used for general traffic during peak travel times — and it will be a toll lane, Bemelen said, adding that the price for the toll lane hasn’t been finalized yet.

Once the new lane is in operation the price could change. If CDOT sees that the lane isn’t being used enough, the price might me lowered, and vice-versa, if it ends up being as busy as the existing lanes, the price could be raised, he explained.

Similar traffic management techniques have been used with success in other states, and in some areas, I-70’s eastbound shoulder is already wide enough to carry the load. But in general, CDOT will add two to three feet of width in many areas along that section, especially around interchanges to ensure adequate room for acceleration lanes, he said.

“On some places, that will push us over the edge (of the existing embankments), so we’ll have to build some walls,” he said. The project will also require a new bridge at State Highway 103.

Bemelen said CDOT hopes to soon launch an interactive website for the project, including video presentations and a public comment function.

Under the RAMP program, CDOT funds multi-year projects based on year of expenditure, rather than saving for the full amount of a project before construction begins. This matches project expenditures with available revenues and allow CDOT to fund additional transportation projects over the next five years.

In summary, the 44 partnership project elements include:

  • 238   Lane miles improved

  • 89     Lane miles added

  • 26     Lane miles transferred from state system

  • 116   Shoulder miles improved/added

  • 13     Rehabilitated bridges

  • 5       New wildlife passes

  • 1       New pedestrian bridge

  • 9       Reconstructed interchanges

  • 4       “Main Street” highway projects

  • 16     Transit/bicycle/pedestrian projects

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