By Jeff Todd
IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – With traffic problems only getting worse on westbound Interstate 70 in Clear Creek County, the Colorado Department of Transportation unveiled its top concepts for improving congestion.
“Colorado’s population is growing by leaps and bounds and people move here because they want to come to the mountains,” said CDOT engineer Stephen Harelson.
CDOT is separating plans to fix the I-70 mountain corridor between Floyd Hill and Empire. One project will now focus on a peak-period shoulder lane westbound, like what already exists eastbound.
“I think the peak-period shoulder lanes are good because they’re an interim short term solution until we do the long term fix. What we can’t do is take more of the community than they’ve already taken,” said Mary Jane Lovelie, an Idaho Springs businesswoman who has sat on many non-governmental transportation boards.
CDOT studies show the added lane on eastbound I-70 has improved traffic flow by up to 50 percent on busy Sundays. Westbound traffic peaks on Fridays, plus weekend mornings in the winter could be a tougher problem to alleviate.
The other project is looking at options to fix I-70 between Floyd Hill and the Veterans Memorial Tunnels in Idaho Springs.
“Floyd Hill is a perfect storm; we have a steep grade, we’ve got a lane drop at the top it goes from three lanes to two lanes, and a sharp curve at the bottom. If we can fix some of those elements it will improve traffic,” said Harelson.
Plans range from simply re-working existing lanes to have less curves, to completely rerouting I-70 away from Clear Creek.
The cost estimates are currently between $300 million to $800 million. Money that CDOT currently doesn’t have.
“Until we get through the design, we don’t know what alternative we’ll pick and certainly fiscal alternatives are part of that,” Harelson said.
Still, the National Environmental Policy Act studies are moving forward. Many residents around Clear Creek County want to see the traffic issues fixed, but have concerns about more construction, noise, pollution and improved recreation possibilities.
“What we’re doing here is really trying to make significant improvements not only for our own community but also the state of Colorado,” said Clear Creek County Commissioner Timothy Mauck. “Keeping that traffic on the interstate is very important.”
Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.