CDOT breaks ground on westbound I-70 mountain express lane, which will widen interstate for 13 miles |

CDOT breaks ground on westbound I-70 mountain express lane, which will widen interstate for 13 miles

Sawyer D'Argonne / Summit Daily
Pictured from left are Idaho Springs Mayor Michael Hillman, Colorado Department of Transportation executive Director Shoshana Lew, Federal Highway Administration division administrator John Cater, CDOT commissioner Kathy Connell, Gov. Jared Polis, regional transportation director Paul Jesaitis and Clear Creek County Commissioner Randall Wheelock as they break ground on the Westbound I-70 Mountain Express Lane Project on Thursday, July 11, 2019, in Idaho Springs.
Sawyer D’Argonne /

IDAHO SPRINGS — Front Range motorists soon may have an easier time making their way up to the mountains as the Colorado Department of Transportation kicks off its Westbound I-70 Mountain Express Lane Project.

Dozens gathered Thursday morning along Interstate 70 in Idaho Springs as officials from around the state broke ground on the project, which aims to reduce congestion and improve safety for drivers along the mountain corridor.

“We did this originally on the east side of I-70, where we built an express lane, and after that, it really improved traffic flow,” CDOT statewide communications manager Bob Wilson said. “There’s an obvious need to widen I-70 throughout the corridor. So this is just the next step. It’s a big deal in that it’s going to enhance traffic flow and improve safety throughout this entire tight stretch of Interstate 70.”

The $70 million project, to be completed by Graham Construction out of Denver, will convert a shoulder into an additional lane on westbound I-70. The extra lane will open as a toll lane during peak travel times, effectively widening the highway for about a 13-mile spread between the Veterans Memorial Tunnels and Empire Junction, one of the more congestion-heavy stretches of the interstate.

A similar express lane project opened on the eastbound side of the road in 2015 and has been widely considered a success by state officials. The eastbound lane opens about 100 days per year during peak transit times — primarily weekends and holidays. Officials are hopeful the westbound lane will make a similar impact.

“Here in Colorado, we love our mountains,” Gov. Jared Polis said at the groundbreaking. “Whether you want to hike or bike or ski or snowboard or just enjoy the view — it’s really a critical part of who we are as a state, and of course the highway 70 corridor is a critical economic lifeblood for our communities in the High Country.

“We all know that getting into the mountains using the highway 70 corridor can be tough during those peak travel times. And the more time people sit in traffic, the less time you have to enjoy our beautiful state. That’s really why we’re here today, to mark the launch of an extra lane on highway 70 westbound, complementing the eastbound peak capacity lane, which will really help make a dent in the traffic during those peak periods.”

Polis continued to say the extra lane would benefit not only those willing to pay the toll but also motorists in the general purpose lanes that should be less crowded.

In addition to addressing congestion issues, the lane addition also is meant to help improve safety along the corridor. As part of the project, CDOT will be installing an improved communication system, new safety pullouts and enhanced advanced warning signs. The project also will include resurfacing work for the entire roadway and give emergency services more clear paths to respond during emergencies.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” CDOT executive director Shoshana Lew said. “These improvements will do a lot to help mitigate congestion-related crashes, prevent rock falls and enhance signage and communication to motorists. This is part of our initiative Whole System Whole Safety, which is focused on doing everything we possibly can to improve the safety of our network, reducing the rate and severity of crashes and improving safety conditions for those traveling by all modes. We are focused on one simple goal of getting everyone home safe.”

Construction on the project is scheduled to begin Monday, July 15, and the new lane is expected to open in summer 2021. Construction will require shoulder and lane closures during low volume traffic periods, though a majority of the construction will be completed with both westbound lanes open by staging equipment in the eastbound express lane.

Wilson said CDOT is planning to continue widening areas west of the Empire Junction in future years, depending on financing.

“We are planning expansions to the west, and the work is going to be completed as funding allows,” Wilson said.

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