Extra Twin Tunnels money might fund Hwy. 9 wideningin Summit County | SummitDaily.com

Extra Twin Tunnels money might fund Hwy. 9 wideningin Summit County

Caddie Nath
Summit Daily News
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

In the latest plot twist of the Interstate 70 saga Wednesday, transportation officials supported a plan to fund a Twin Tunnels widening project and divvy up an additional $160 million among state and regional projects, which might include Highway 9.

With an unexpected $229 million in the bank, the Colorado Transportation Commission at a budget workshop Wednesday expressed intent to split the money between a project to widen the eastbound bore of the Twin Tunnels, work on Interstate 25 at Colorado Springs and high-priority regional projects.

“I think that’s what we’re going to do,” said Doug Aden, who represents the Western Slope on the commission.

The plan, pushed hard by Summit County officials, would furnish CDOT’s six regions with a total of $35 million to be directed to high-priority projects. In Region 1, which includes Summit, the completion of work to widen Hwy. 9 to four lanes tops the list.

“We’re telling the transportation commission … let’s give another big chunk of money to the regions, so region managers have discretionary dollars,” Summit County assistant manager Thad Noll said. “We will push for some of those funds to be used for Hwy. 9 between Tiger Road and Agape (Church) to do that widening, as well as the Fairview roundabout.”

If the regional funding is approved and CDOT gives the green light, work on the final stretch of Hwy. 9 could be under way by next spring.

The found money was collected from a number of sources, including $102 million in federal funding and the reconciliation and settlement of other accounts.

The plan initially backed by the commission Wednesday would direct approximately $90 million of that money to statewide road resurfacing efforts, $31 million to an Interstate 25 reconstruction project near Colorado Springs and $14 million to the removal of hazardous dead trees, some of which, Aden said, would likely make it to Summit County.

But the biggest chunk of change would be invested in the Twin Tunnels, a project that has drawn focus away from local I-70 projects – including the reconstruction of the Silverthorne interchange.

The two-lane shoulderless Twin Tunnels form a bottleneck just east of Idaho Springs on the corridor that frequently chokes up eastbound traffic returning to Denver from the mountains on Sunday afternoons during peak seasons.

The $60 million project would widen the eastbound tunnel allowing the road to be expanded to three lanes through to Floyd Hill and all the way into Denver. The project would also include smoothing sharp curves in the area, which pose a hazard for heavy commercial vehicles and tend to slow down traffic.

“We think (it) is critically important to start to get some improvements on I-70,” Aden said of the still unofficial decision to fund the project.

The fast-moving tunnel project rose to the top of CDOT’s to-do list as the transportation department backed away from a plan to restructure the I-70/Silverthorne interchange, which was in the early evaluation phase.

“We understand that doing work down at the Twin Tunnels will have a bigger impact on the corridor,” Silverthorne public works director Bill Linfield said. “We support the efforts to improve the corridor. We just want to make sure that doesn’t mean our interchange ends up being one of the last projects to be done.”

Silverthorne and CDOT are currently in talks to identify short-term solutions for the more pressing interchange problems, including changes to the westbound on-ramp, which is steep, short and, in the winter months, particularly icy and dangerous. Because all drivers headed for the middle and high schools use the ramp, it has become a top priority for the town. Short-term work on the interchange might also include an alternate drainage system that would protect the Blue River from polluted runoff from the highway.

The transportation commission will likely finalize the funding plan at the Oct. 20 meeting to be held at Beaver Run in Breckenridge.

The Denver Post contributed to the reporting of this story.

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