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Here’s how driving on I-70 is different this weekend, thanks to the Mile High Shift

Posted: 5:56 PM, May 21, 2021
Updated: 2021-05-23 21:08:08-04
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DENVER – Driving through the two-mile viaduct that has passed through parts of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood in north Denver for the past 57 years will be a thing of the past starting Friday night.

Beginning at 10 p.m. Friday and lasting through 5 a.m. Monday, Interstate 70 is shut down in both directions between I-270 and Washington Street as crews prepare the road for the Mile High Shift – a project that will demolish the aging viaduct and drop that section of the interstate about 30 feet below its current location, onto a brand-new stretch of road between Brighton and Colorado boulevards.

If you’re planning on being in the area this weekend, expect to take the following detour:

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Here it is in writing, in case the map confuses you:

  • If you’re going west on I-70, you’ll need to head north on I-270 then head west on I-76, continue south onto I-25 and then exit onto I-70.
  • If you’re coming from the east, you’ll want to head north on I-25, head east on I-76, go south on I-270 and then exit onto I-70.

Demolition of I-70 viaduct begins

CDOT crews began demolishing the aging I-70 viaduct Saturday morning. It will take five months to completely demolish the structure. Water misters (similar to snow machines) are being used to wet down the dust during demolition operations.

Demolition of I-70 viaduct begins

OK. What happens if I’m driving along I-70 Friday night and encounter a roadblock or detour?

Road closure gates will be at each closure point and will point drivers in the direction of the detour, said Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) spokeswoman Stacia Sellers.

“So let’s say someone is headed east and comes up onto the closure point at Washington Street, they’ll be turned onto I-25, then there will be signs marked 'EB I-70 detour' that will take them to I-76, then I-270, back to I-70.”

The same thing will happen for those headed west with a flipped detour (so I-270, to I-76, to I-25), Sellers said.

Here’s what you can expect for your commute starting Monday

All current lanes of I-70 will move to the westbound lanes of the lowered section, meaning drivers going to or coming from the mountains will share six lanes of traffic until the viaduct is torn down and the new eastbound tunnel is built – a process CDOT expects to last a little more than a year.

If you’re driving east on I-70, you can expect a gradual decline into the lowered section at Brighton Boulevard to the area of the Nestlé Purina PetCare Company. The interstate will level out and gradually incline back to its current elevation by Colorado Boulevard.

Central 70 Project Director Bob Hays said drivers do not need to worry about driving through the tunnel in the lowered section as there’s enough room for all traffic to make it through without a hitch. The westbound lanes – though slightly narrow – will be 11-feet wide, compared to the 12-foot interstate standard the highway is expected to have once the project is complete in mid-2022.

Additionally, Hays said, the shoulders on both sides of the highway will be eight-to-ten feet wide when the eastbound tunnel opens.

“We are not reducing any capacity for I-70,” he told Denver7 traffic expert Jayson Luber during a recent tour of the lowered section.

And while we are used to driving through tunnels here in Colorado, drivers in the metro will need to adjust to driving under the new 1,000-foot-long tunnel between Columbine and Clayton streets.

The tunnel has nine enormous jet fans just outside the east side exit that will be used for two purposes: Air quality control that may be needed in case of traffic jams, and to clear out any smoke from potential fires inside the tunnel. The tunnel also has a deluge system that will drop 3,500 gallons of water per minute to flood a potential fire inside.

In the meantime, drivers who may need to pull over may get pushed to one of the emergency pull-outs Hays said will be located every half-mile.

CDOT said a series of small lights will illuminate the lanes below once inside the tunnel. Once complete, more than 1,700 LED lights will shine inside the tunnel, with more than 80 of those used for emergency lighting. Should a power outage occur, a large generator will turn on to make sure the tunnel lights function 24/7, regardless of the circumstance, CDOT said.

A four-acre cover park will sit above the tunnel, next to Swansea Elementary School. The park is expected to have two soccer fields, an amphitheater, splash pad and playground.

CDOT released a animated video of the finished project, which you can view below.