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CDOT picks contractors for $700 million I-70 expansion between Floyd Hill and Clear Creek Canyon

Work will get underway this year on the first pieces of a $700 million project to upgrade Interstate 70 where it comes down Floyd Hill and heads into Clear Creek Canyon after state transportation officials signed contracts on Friday with the design and construction firms chosen to lead the effort.

A memo posted to the Colorado Department of Transportation website Friday names Kraemer North America as the construction manager chosen to lead the forthcoming project after a competitive bidding process was held in the fall.

The Wisconsin-based firm has won contracts for several previous large CDOT projects, including the North Insterstate 25 and I-25 South Gap projects. The company also handled the Veterans Memorial Tunnels expansion project on I-70 near Idaho Springs.

Now it will be tasked with leading the largest transportation project in Colorado since work began on the expansion of I-70 through Denver, CDOT officials said Friday.

Atkins has been chosen as the lead designer for the project, according to CDOT.

“We are excited to bring these partners onto the Floyd Hill project and begin to build the much-needed improvements to this stretch of I-70,” CDOT spokesman Matthew Inzeo said in an email Friday. “Floyd Hill is a challenging section of the interstate that poses safety hazards and frustrating backups for travelers, and this project will deliver critical upgrades to make travel through this area much easier.”

The stretch of highway coming down over the hill and banking left into the canyon is a frequent scene of accidents that jam-up traffic between the Front Range and resort communities to the west. The bridge at the bottom of the hill is already at the end of its operable life and must be replaced, a reality that led state officials to plan for the more ambitious project now moving forward, Inzeo said.

The project’s design involves new viaducts to navigate the highway more smoothly through tight curves, an option chosen over boring a new tunnel at the bottom of the hill.

There is still extensive design work to be done on the viaducts, according to Inzeo.

“Early project elements will start this year, but questions about practical issues like impacts to travel during construction and the project timeline will really just start to be fleshed out in detail now that the team is on board,” he said in an email.

CDOT formalized plans with the state transportation commission last week to complete both the eastbound and westbound portions of the long-planned project.

Exact funding sources have not been identified, but the $5.4 billion transportation funding package the state legislature passed last year gave CDOT officials confidence to move forward. The agency originally only planned to take on the westbound phase, Inzeo said.

“We are now in a place where we have a degree of comfort to scope the whole thing,” he told The Denver Post on Friday.

The project for years has been the top priority for the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for improvements along the highway’s mountain corridor. The organization’s director, Margaret Bowes, on Friday said the project will not only make the highway easier to traverse at busy times but also enhance safety and improve the flow of Clear Creek through the area by returning it to more of its natural path.

“Connecting the Front Range population with all of the many resorts and other outdoor recreation opportunities and attractions to the west is critical to our economy,” Bowes said, noting that traffic problems on I-70, especially around Floyd Hill, have become a barrier keeping some people at home.

The people who are now staying home instead of dealing with I-70 traffic is what worries Matt Frommer, a senior transportation associate with the environmental group the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project or SWEEP.

SWEEP advocates for ways to make the highway more efficient, including mass transit. Adding capacity isn’t in line with the state or CDOT’s goals around reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, he said.

“I just find it hard to believe that this new highway lane won’t immediately fill up with traffic,” Frommer said. “There is just so much pent-up demand. I think we just need to come up with more creative solutions to try to get people out in the mountains.”

Denver Post staff writer Jon Murray contributed to this report. 

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