I-70 interchange set to open

A project originally conceived during the oil shale boom of decades ago is about to reach its completion, prompting a celebration Wednesday by a broad coalition of responsible parties in western Garfield County.

The Colorado Department of Transportation held a ribbon-cutting to mark the approaching finish of work at a new, second Interstate 70 interchange in the Parachute area. The $12 million project, scheduled for completion by Nov. 12, makes use of an existing U.S. Highway 6 overpass west of town and includes two new roundabouts.

“We’re real excited,” Parachute Town Manager Robert Knight said.

The project, beginning with an environmental assessment, made use of funding from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, CDOT, Garfield County, Parachute, the Federal Highway Administration and Battlement Mesa Co. In addition, oil and gas companies Encana USA and WPX Energy contributed $300,000 apiece.

“That’s quite a large group coming to the table so it is unique,” CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said.

The new interchange ties in with a recently completed bypass that enables energy traffic to access operations north of Parachute without having to use the main interchange. Also, Encana just opened its new field office just off the bypass. Encana spokeswoman Sandy Kent said about 65 percent of those working there come from the west, which means the new interchange will provide convenient access for them.

She said the new interchange should boost economic development, direct traffic away from residential areas and provide another avenue for emergency vehicles.

“It’s a win-win for the industry and our employees, it’s a win for the residents of our area and everyone who travels on I-70,” she said.

Knight said talk of a second interchange dates back to the early 1980s, when traffic at the main interchange was heavy due to the oil shale boom.

That boom ended with Exxon’s shutdown of its oil shale project in 1982. However, traffic backups at the main interchange became common again with the natural gas development boom that peaked in 2008.

By the time work on the new interchange work began, drilling had slowed down considerably, which Knight said caused some people to ask whether the interchange was needed. But he notes that natural gas development continues in the area, and the interchange also opens up a lot of land for development for other purposes.

“We see it as bringing economic growth and economic diversity. Right now we’ve been live-or-die by the energy activity.“He said the second interchange also makes it possible to eventually do further improvements to the main one, including widening of the bridge there.

The interchange and bypass projects were made possible in part by 2009 legislation that directed DOLA to make $17 million in federal mineral leasing revenues available to counties where that leasing and resulting impacts were occurring. Knight said the Parachute projects received about $8 million of those funds.


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