Cruising ahead on Interstate 70

Any western Colorado resident unfortunate enough to have driven to Denver on a busy Sunday afternoon in ski season or the height of the summer tourist season has experienced the frustration of traffic on Interstate 70 slowing to a crawl the closer one gets to Idaho Springs.

So it’s welcome news to learn that, despite the current budget constraints, the Colorado Department of Transportation has a plan to alleviate the traffic bottleneck just east of Idaho Springs and keep traffic moving at a more reasonable pace on those busy Sunday afternoons.

The plan was outlined to The Daily Sentinel recently by Don Hunt, the executive director of CDOT. He was appointed to that post earlier this year by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Hunt is one of a number of Hickenlooper appointees to key posts who was chosen for his real-world experience, not his political history. Hunt had never worked in government prior to his appointment to the CDOT post, but he has 35 years experience in the private sector in transportation, project development and management.

The I-70 traffic plan would cost roughly $60 million. And, if environmental approval is obtained from federal authorities, the work could be completed in 2013, Hunt said.

The project would include adding a third eastbound lane of traffic at the twin tunnels just east of Idaho Springs and continuing that third lane to the base of Floyd Hill, from where there are already three lanes continuing into Denver. Some of the curves between the tunnels and Floyd Hill would also be straightened.

Additionally, Hunt said there is the possibility of using the right shoulder of eastbound I-70 as a third lane of traffic on busy days for about 12 miles west of Idaho springs.

And initial tests of using a Colorado State Patrol “pace car” — one about every 10 minutes — show promising results for keeping traffic flowing steadily eastbound from the Eisenhower Tunnel, Hunt said.

These projects are temporary bandaids for a highway that clearly needs more serious improvements but, in the absence of money to do more, Hunt and CDOT are undertaking creative projects to make traffic flow better.


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