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I-70 Floyd Hill Project: CDOT releases a detailed look at the massive construction project

"When we're done with the project, I know that this section of I-70 is going to be better than it is today," the director of the project said.
AFTER RENDERING_I-70 at the bottom of Floyd Hill from above.png
Posted at 5:22 PM, Jun 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-08 19:28:06-04

CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. — The gateway to Colorado's Rocky Mountains is about to undergo phase one of a major, multi-year construction project to make much-needed improvements and repairs.

Phase one of I-70 Floyd Hill Project, aimed to provide drastic improvements to the aging infrastructure along that section of Interstate 70, will officially begin in late June. Once finished, it will have realigned part of the interstate and frontage roads. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) started this project in October, but a spokesperson confirmed the main part of the project officially begins later this month.

I-70 Floyd Hill Project: CDOT releases a detailed look at the massive construction project

The expected completion timeframe is late 2028, according to CDOT. It selected its contract partner as Kraemer North America.

By the time the road fully reopens, it will have a third westbound lane to function as a full-time express lane, a two-mile section of frontage road between US Highway 6 and Central City Parkway interchange, and an extended on-ramp from US Highway 6 to eastbound I-70. The new roadway, which will have wider curves, will help with safety. In addition, bridges will be rebuilt and the Clear Creek Greenway trail will see improvements.

The I-70 Floyd Hill Project has been broken into three phases — the east section, central section and west section — which run eight miles between west of Evergreen to eastern Idaho Springs.

I-70 Floyd Hill project

CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said this project is many years in the making.

“From initial scoping to completion of the National Environmental Policy Act process in February 2023, we are now ready for construction," she said Thursday. "Moving the project forward was a collective effort from many partners including elected officials, local, state and federal agencies, environmental and recreation groups, first responders and numerous community organizations. We couldn’t be where we are today without their input, support and ultimately their endorsement of the project.”

CDOT I-70 Floyd Hill Project Director Kurt Kionka added that eliminating the bottleneck at Floyd Hill will ease congestion and decrease crashes.

The estimated construction cost is $700 million, which CDOT received from state and federal funding. In September 2022, Gov. Jared Polis announced that Colorado had received a $100 million Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight and Highway Projects grant from the federal government to improve Floyd Hill on I-70. It was the largest competitive grant the state had ever received from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Minimizing impacts for residents, travelers

Over the past years, CDOT has met with residents, stakeholders and community leaders to discuss their plans and any public concern ahead of the start of this project.

CDOT said it will keep all lanes and ramps open during peak traffic hours, but overnight closures will happen semi-regularly. The lane closures will vary based on the time of year, day of week and other factors.

Residents may find "minor impacts" to the westbound I-70 off-ramp at Homestead Road, near Floyd Hill Open Space, CDOT said.

Julia Jarrett, an Idaho Springs resident, told Denver7 on Thursday that traffic impacts the community in all seasons. She questioned the need for the third westbound lane.

"I don't even know if that third lane would necessarily even help," she said. "I mean, with the growth in the population now in Denver, and in these areas? I don't know. It's not like they're doing it for, you know, like a long, long way, all the way out to up in the mountains... For the locals, that's going to be a nightmare. And I don't even think that's going to really help."

AFTER RENDERING_I-70 east of Sawmill Gulch looking west.png
I-70 east of Sawmill Gulch looking west (rendering)

When she tries to venture out on the weekend, she often gets caught in traffic.

"A lot of times I take different routes to get home because it's just a mess," she said. "Hopefully (the project) is for the better. I'm not sure. Not really sure on that one."

Kent Slaymaker, who also lives in Idaho Springs, said as a local, he has learned the patterns of traffic to avoid it.

"Unfortunately, building another lane isn't how you fix it," he said. "That causes induced demand, which creates more traffic. It's like buying more beer to quit drinking."

He said the third lane may help for a time, but it may also draw more people out to the mountains who believe traffic is lessened. He said he believes it will only result in three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic instead of two.

"A lot of the time, construction takes so long that by the time you finish construction and it opens, induced demand has already filled up," he said. "And it's just as bad as it ever was. The real solution is public transportation, buses and a train, I guess, but buses would be more economical."

Mark Suma, who has lived in Idaho Springs for about 40 years, said he has to plan his day around traffic if he heads out.

"It'll be a nightmare for those years of construction," he said, and adding about the express lane: "So, you know, unless you got an extra buck in your pocket, you know, you're stuck in the other lanes. So, that was kind of a lane just for wealthy people."

Joseph Calhoun, who lives in Empire and works in Idaho Springs, said in September that when other drivers take the frontage road, his 10- to 15-minute ride home takes more than 45 minutes. But he gave CDOT the benefit of the doubt.

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“It’s a good idea, especially from Evergreen to Idaho Springs because you have that bottleneck, and it doesn’t empty until you can get to the express lanes CDOT put in a few years ago through Idaho Springs," he said.

To keep up with updates from the I-70 Floyd Hill Project updates, text "floydhill" to 21000. You can also listen to previous public meetings here.

How did we get here?

If you have lived in Colorado for even a short time, there's a good chance you have experienced traffic on I-70.

Gov. Polis said in September 2022 that fixing this has been a priority for his administration and is the centerpiece for his Ten-Year Plan. The plan includes a list of priority projects involving transportation around the state.

Kionka, the director of the I-70 Floyd Hill Project, said the infrastructure around Floyd Hill was built in the 1960s and needs the upgrade, especially with the growing population along Colorado's Front Range and increased I-70 use.

With limited detour routes, there are few other ways to improve the route between the central mountains and Denver.

"When we're done with the project, I know that this section of I-70 is going to be better than it is today," he said.

In anticipation of the impacts from this construction, CDOT started work on several "early projects," some of which are already underway. This has included US Highway 40 and Floyd Hill roundabouts, which are expected to be completed by early 2024.

CDOT roundabout near floyd hill_Colorado Department of Transportation

Two wildlife crossings are also under construction as part of these "early projects" — one at I-70 and Genesse, and another at US 40 in Empire. The final early project is a Pegasus transit shuttle stop in the Floyd Hill area.

Breakdown of the project's three phases

The I-70 Floyd Hill Project is starting with the east section, a four-mile stretch that begins at County Road 65 and runs to the bottom of Floyd Hill. One of the most noticeable changes will be a third westbound travel lane starting at the top of Floyd Hill. This will be an express lane.

This summer, travelers can expect to see crews building the work zone, excavating, doing drainage work, and rock scaling and blasting. During the latter activities, crews may hold traffic in both directions for 20-minute increments. However, traffic will build during this time, so CDOT is alerting drivers that they may see up to 45 minutes of delays for this work, which will likely begin in late July or early August.

Rock blasting here will happen two times a week through early 2024.

In addition, an eastbound I-70 climbing lane will be constructed for slow-moving vehicles in this area headed toward the Front Range, CDOT said.

Some lanes may be closed overnight, and lanes and shoulders may narrow depending on the work being done at that time.

I-70 Floyd Hill project

Construction for phase two is scheduled to begin this fall. This is the western section, which runs between the Hidden Valley interchange to Idaho Springs at exit 241.

Crews will continue the construction of the third westbound travel lane, rebuild bridges over Clear Creek west of Hidden Valley, and resurface Clear Creek Greenway from the Hidden Valley interchange to the Veteran Memorial Tunnels.

This phase will include occasional stops in both directions for rock-blasting. The eastbound off-ramp to Hidden Valley will close during bridge construction, CDOT said.

The final section is the shortest and sits between the previous phases, around the nearly 90-degree turn at the bottom of Floyd Hill. This is set to begin in the fall of 2024.

The bridges at the bottom of Floyd Hill will be replaced as part of this phase and traffic will be shifted in both directions here. A new on-ramp is planned to eastbound I-70 from the bottom of Floyd Hill to connect to the new eastbound climbing lanes.

A new frontage road will be constructed between the US Highway 6 and Central City Parkway interchanges.

The nearby Clear Creek Greenway trail will be reconstructed from the bottom of Floyd Hill to County Road 314. Lastly, parts of Clear Creek may be realigned and restored.

As with the previous phases, rock blasting may force traffic stops.

In some cases, complete closures of I-70 overnight may be necessary. Drivers can use US Highway 6 and US Highway 40 as an alternative.

To learn more about this project, click here.

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