The 13-year study to widen I-70 between I-25 and Chambers Road has been delayed about six months. Start of construction has been pushed back from the end of 2017 to the first half of 2018.
The $1.2 billion Central 70 project would entail full reconstruction of the highway from Colorado Blvd. to Sand Creek (just east of Quebec) and widening of the highway from Sand Creek to Chambers Road. On completion, each direction will have one “managed” lane (Express Lane). Another key project feature is removal of the existing viaduct and lowering the highway between Brighton Blvd. and Colorado Blvd. A four-acre cover over the interstate between Clayton and Columbine streets would relink neighborhoods that have been separated by the elevated viaduct since it was built in 1964.
Following public comment on the draft final environmental impact statement, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA)was expected to issue a “record of decision” that would enable the project to move forward. However, that decision was delayed by two factors: the volume of comments and the opportunity to extend air quality modeling out to the year 2040 instead of 2035. Ironically, the prolonged environmental review period created the opportunity for the additional modeling.*
CDOT’s project spokeswoman, Rebecca White, does not anticipate further delays in the environmental review nor in the start of construction. However, project critics are fighting the project on at least two fronts: a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency challenging recently changed federal air quality standards that allow for the I-70 project; and a lawsuit against Denver challenging its ability to make certain storm drainage improvements in City Park in partial support of the highway-widening project. Denver’s website counters that “integrating stormwater detention in golf courses is a very common practice” with the designated drainage area remaining a dry, fully functioning golf course “outside of major storms.” Although redesign of the course has not been finalized, the city says the City Park Golf Course will always be an 18-hole golf course. It will remain open through the 2017 season, close during construction and reopen in 2019.
Central 70 is a Design/Finance/Build/Operate/Maintain project. The successful bidding team will receive periodic payments for meeting milestones during construction and annual “availability payments” during the life of the contract (payments made based on the team’s ability to meet performance standards for keeping the roadway open and well maintained). A developer will be selected next summer from among four short-listed teams. Until that selection is made, critical details such as construction phasing are unknown. Reconstruction of the Quebec interchange will occur at some as-yet undetermined time within the overall, four- to five-year project schedule.
In the meantime, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has received a $400,000 federal grant to prepare a workforce development and on-the-job training plan for the Central 70 project. CDOT has also received “special permission” from the FHA to develop a program to hire locally, i.e., within the geographic boundaries of the communities impacted by the highway-widening project. The ability to meet or exceed CDOT’s local hiring goals will be one factor in developer selection.
*The air quality modeling is based on land and transportation plans prepared by the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG).