Large-scale I-70 project between Frisco and Silverthorne to begin in April
The project, which leaders expect to extend through September 2023, will include Exit 205
Commuters and travelers who frequent Interstate 70 between Silverthorne and Frisco might see some relief by autumn 2023.
Colorado Department of Transportation officials met with Silverthorne Town Council to discuss its newest project in the area: an auxiliary eastbound lane between the two towns, plus work on the interchange at Exit 205. The project will be completed by Ames Construction, a company that has a regional office in Aurora.
From April 2022 until September 2023, the project plans to repave and restripe eastbound lanes, widen the bridges over U.S. Highway 6 and the Blue River, build deer fencing in both directions of the interstate between mile markers 203 and 205, improve trucker parking and build a longer deceleration lane at the 205 offramp. The department does not plan to deal with westbound lanes between Silverthorne and Frisco.
Grant Anderson, resident engineer for CDOT, said this project came as the result of a feasibility study, which showed that the eastbound lanes were more prone to accidents — especially in the winter. Visitors driving in inclement weather often used the offramp as one single lane instead of two, resulting in traffic baked up on the ramp. Because drivers heading toward the ramp did not have adequate time and space to slow down, these issues caused rear-end collisions, further slowing traffic.
This project started with the addition of a lane between Frisco and Silverthorne, Anderson said, which would have ended at Exit 205. However the Federal Highway Administration has jurisdiction on that stretch and told CDOT engineers that the project had to include three continuous lanes to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels.
“That’s where the bridge widening came into play,” Anderson said. “We have four very critical bridges in this area. … Widening those structures was kind of not something I really wanted to do, but we were kind of forced to do that for a lane-balance problem.”
Town leadership and Silverthorne residents know the issues caused by Exits 203 and 205 too well. Managers and council members have asked state departments for updates to the section for more than a decade.
Some council members expressed frustration in how long it had taken the department to approach issues at Exit 205, especially when projects near Denver with similar price tags were given priority. Anderson said he does not decide the priority of project lists. That is the job of higher positions at CDOT.
“The point that I want to just hammer home here is this is just exhausting,” council member Mike Spry said. “I had a doctor’s appointment this morning at 9:30 on a Wednesday and sat on the Frisco offramp for about four minutes to get through a roundabout. … This is a corridor problem, and it just astounds me that we can’t get past this.”
In addition to adding an auxiliary lane for I-70, CDOT plans to build six parking spots to ease spacing issues for truckers.
“Trucks, as everyone knows, on the corridor are a problem. They don’t have rest areas for truckers in a large radius, so they use our scenic overlooks to sleep, and there’s problems with that,” Anderson said. “That’ll help during winter operations, which is actually going to help Silverthorne — if they don’t all jam into town and have a little extra space at the overlook.”
Council members were concerned about parts of the project’s timeline, specifically during summer. Mudslides in Glenwood Canyon caused the interstate to shut down for weeks during cleanup, causing rerouting and delays for travelers and truckers.
Summer is also a very busy travel time in general, so having closures or slowed traffic could clog Exit 205 even more, they said. Last year, traffic was backed up as far north as Silverthorne’s Willowbrook neighborhood — almost 3.5 miles north of the ramp — and drivers began cutting through the Smith Ranch community.
“There are people in this room that are completely spooked about what may happen with detours and closures in Glenwood Canyon,” Spry said. “If we have other issues from wildfires that require main corridors to be closed, these are public safety issues that seem to kind of get pushed in the back. All of the air for all of the highway work seems to be taken up by the Front Range, and this is an economic center and a commerce center for our state. Someone needs to pay attention to that.”
According to CDOT, drivers should expect up to 20 minutes of additional travel time throughout the work zone. Pedestrians will still have access, but their routes may be detoured when the project begins. Two eastbound lanes will remain open throughout the project, and speed will be reduced to 55 miles per hour in the work zone. When the project starts in April, the biggest impacts will be felt in Silverthorne at the intersection of I-70 and Blue River Parkway.
Specifically, this will affect drivers turning onto I-70 toward Denver and travelers turning from U.S. 6 onto the I-70 ramp toward Frisco. There will be a shortened turn lane when getting onto the interstate. Council members expressed concerns that this could worsen congestion since turning from U.S. 6 onto the Interstate requires a green arrow.
Anderson is aiming for these traffic delays to be done by the Fourth of July.
Currently, the price tag on the project is $27 million. Work will continue through the construction season before a pause for winter, and construction will pick up again in spring 2023. Much of the work slated for next year — including demolition — will be at night.
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