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Newly-configured I-70 reopens in Denver after historic shift

CDOT has completed a "historic traffic shift" in the heart of Denver. Drivers will be on new lanes for the Monday commute.

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has reopened Interstate 70 following a weekend-long "historic traffic shift" in the heart of Denver.

Also known as the "Mile High Shift," the traffic shift is closed eastbound and westbound I-70 between Washington Street and I-270 from 10 p.m. Friday, May 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 24.

The closure allowed CDOT to move all six lanes of Interstate 70 traffic (between Brighton Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard) from the existing viaduct to the future westbound lanes of I-70 in the lowered section of the project.

"The Mile High Shift will allow crews to then safely demolish the structurally deficient 57-year-old viaduct and build the future eastbound lanes of I-70," according to CDOT release.

CDOT said the new traffic configuration marks a new chapter in Colorado’s history, as I-70 will be approximately 30 feet below ground, a nearly 60-foot difference from its current elevation.

“We are incredibly proud of everything our crews have accomplished since groundbreaking in August 2018 and over the weekend to make this historical shift happen,” said CDOT Project Director Bob Hays. “We want to thank motorists for their patience during this closure as we know that detouring around your normal route can be inconvenient, but we were able to perform critical work all while keeping motorists safe. We ask now that motorists leave earlier than they normally do if they are planning on driving through this section of I-70. It will take time for folks to get acclimated to their new surroundings over the next week or two and there will no doubt be slow-downs.”

Credit: KUSA
Credit: CDOT
Weekend closure of I-70 in both directions from Washington Street to I-270 in preparation for the Mile High Shift.

CDOT crews didn't waste any time with starting to tear down the viaduct. Demolition of the elevated part of I-70 began Saturday morning, as water misters sprayed down the dust for the operations.

Crews were also reconfiguring the interchanges (changing striping and moving barriers) to shift traffic into the lowered section and off the old lanes of I-70, a spokesperson for CDOT said Saturday. 

Mile High Shift traffic impact:

  • Friday, May 21 at 10 p.m. to Monday, May 24 at 5 a.m.
  • Westbound I-70 traffic: Head west on I-270, to westbound I-76, continue south onto I-25 and exit onto westbound I-70.
  • Eastbound I-70 traffic: Head north on I-25, take eastbound I-76, continue east on I-270 and exit onto eastbound I-70.

RELATED: Fossilized 'humpless' camel unearthed at Central 70 Project site dates back to Ice Age

Earlier in May, CDOT announced seven fossils, including a camel, were found between Oct. 16 and 19, 2020, as construction work took place on the new lowered section of I-70.

"We've got over a million cubic yards of material that we will eventually move out of this lowered section," said Central 70 Project Director Bob Hays. "We were digging down by the Union Pacific Crossing, and we came across a fossilized camel, and yes, camel is what I said."

The fossils, which included a tooth, dating back to the Ice Age, according to Paul Murphey, a paleontologist with Paleo Solutions. Once the Central 70 Project is complete, Murphey said his company would provide CDOT with a report of the items found and donate them to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

The Central 70 Project, which broke ground in 2018, will reconstruct a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 70, add one new Express Lane in each direction, remove the aging 56-year-old viaduct and lower the interstate between Brighton and Colorado Boulevard.

CDOT said traffic would be in its final configuration by late 2022 with landscaping, installation of park elements and additional items continuing through 2023.

More information on the $1.2 billion project is available at central70.codot.gov.

RELATED: How the Central 70 Project has progressed during the pandemic

Credit: KUSA

How some neighbors are feeling

The Elyria-Swansea neighborhood is practically right next door to the portion of the 'future I-70' that currently holds a brief tunnel (near 46th North Ave and Fillmore Street).

“Just a lot of noise and a lot of dust," said Julie Madril, who lived in the neighborhood for years. 

“I’ve been here since I was - in that house since I was 8 years old, so things are really changing," Madril said Friday. 

Despite the noise and dust, Madril acknowledged the need for change to the highway. 

“And for now, we’re gonna drive on that as soon as they open it Monday morning," said Madril.

Also up the street is Lambert Miera, who is pleased with the progression of the construction. 

“It’ll be nice when everything’s done," he said. 

On the corner of 46th and Josephine, sits several businesses, including Juanita's Panaderia, a longtime bakery that sits right next to the original I-70 viaduct.

Co-Owner Lilia Uribe said while she believes the project itself is a good thing, the overall impact of the construction has been tough on her business. 

“Well I think its because the streets, and a lot of people know, and they’re having a hard time to go through and come over here so," she said. "The people have a hard time to get here. And when they tear down the bridge, its gonna be a lot of dust, I know. Now I have to clean every other day or every day because it’s a lot of dust."

Another resident, Salvador Blea, said that he believes the construction is a sign of the times. 

“It’s progress that has to be done. I know a lot of people don’t like it but," he said, "no one likes change but you have to have it.”

CDOT spokesperson Stacia Sellers said Thursday that there had been positive feedback from the community, even during a large project like this. 

"So it's hard to visualize what that will actually look like," Sellers said. "But now that it's in action, you know, we're hearing really positive remarks from residents, from commuters. This isn't exactly what they expected. This is better than what they had anticipated." 

She adds that this past Saturday, they held a public event in which around 3,000 people attended, where she says positive feedback was received.

Sellers said Saturday that the contractor for the project, Kiewit, is providing hotel vouchers for residents who live near Brighton Boulevard as a part of their noise variance requirements through the Denver Department of Health and Environment. 

Sellers added that the boundaries for those eligible for hotel vouchers are between Brighton Boulevard and York Street and 44th and 48th avenues, and that more than 120 residents accepted the hotel voucher. 

Additionally, a transportation shuttle to the hotel and food vouchers were also provided. 

Sellers said that while some people elected to stay home, they can call over the weekend if they change their mind and Kiewit will arrange their accommodations.

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