Westbound I-70 express lane in the works from Idaho Springs to Empire Junction | SummitDaily.com

Westbound I-70 express lane in the works from Idaho Springs to Empire Junction

Congestion relief for the high country commute is on the way, as Rep. Jared Polis announced Tuesday that he had helped secure $25 million in federal grant money to help build a westbound express lane on the busy mountain corridor. The project is slated to begin construction in summer 2019 and wrap up by fall 2020.

"This grant will go a long way in alleviating traffic on I-70 west, making it easier to get up to the mountains we all love and rely on for our economic vitality," Polis said in a press release announcing the funding. "I'm proud to have helped secure this funding for the highway in my district. When the Colorado delegation works together to advocate for Colorado, as we did here, we can move mountains (and traffic)!"

The westbound express lane will mirror the existing eastbound express lane. It will convert 12 miles of shoulder lane between the Veterans Memorial Tunnel and Empire Junction into an express lane, expanding existing lanes from two to three during designated peak times. Dynamic pricing will be used, meaning the toll will get steeper as traffic builds up.

CDOT Region 1 spokesman Stacia Sellers said the eastbound express lane has been a success, and shaved an average of 20 minutes off commute time into Denver during rush hour. She envisions similar timesaving benefits for commutes on the westbound lane, as well as help emergency responders get to major incidents.

"The eastbound lane has been working out great," Sellers said. "Aside for cutting down on congestion and creating reliable traffic times, one of the benefits of a westbound express lane will be to cut down on emergency response time. If there's a major accident or other problem it will reduce the amount of time to get help out there."

CDOT announced the possibility of a westbound express lane in mid-May along with the agency's ambitious future $550 million plan to expand westbound I-70 by building a tunnel through Floyd Hill. The westbound mountain express lane was floated as a short-term congestion fix while the agency finds the funding for their bigger vision for the highway.

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At peak season, westbound I-70 can see up to 42,000 vehicles climbing into the mountains each day, with June 2016 alone seeing 1.3 million westbound vehicles pass through the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Sellers said that the express lane will offer more room for all that traffic, as well as give some relief to locals in the area who need to get around.

"We've been trying to figure out what's best for the communities as well as the traveling public," Sellers said. "We are especially hoping to see it will help with local access. Folks who live in Idaho Springs or Silver Plume will be have a better experience getting home or to getting their next destination with more reliable travel times and less gridlock to deal with."

Funding for the "Westbound I-70 Peak Period Shoulder Lane Project" was included in a $100 million project package from various state and federal funding sources. The package also includes improvements to the CO 103 interchange, construction of a Fall River Road bridge, improvements to Greenway Trail, and reconstruction of County Road 314.

The $25 million in federal grant money comes from the Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program. The grant effort was spearheaded by Rep. Polis with support from other lawmakers and local stakeholders. CDOT said that that INFRA money will be matched with $69.5 million from the state through Senate Bill 17-267 and $5 million from Clear Creek County.