Even on Super Bowl weekend, the traffic along I-70 was dreadful. Lengthy delays were going up from Denver on Saturday, and coming down from the mountains on Sunday. Solutions for a long-term fix have been discussed for years, but still aren’t very close to implementation.
Though the highway doesn’t run through Gilpin County, lots of our folks use it for commuting, shopping and other errands that take them to Idaho Springs, Evergreen or down the hill to Golden and beyond.
So the first major step in a comprehensive I-70 solution — the work along the Twin Tunnels between the Hidden Valley exit and Idaho Springs — will have major impacts on both our residents and our visitors. Though the frontage road through that stretch — a nice little escape route we could use when the highway was too clogged — has been closed for months and there have been occasional lane closures while the project in in preparation, the first big change will come this Monday.
Starting that day, Feb. 11, the ramp from Eastbound I-70 (coming from Idaho Springs) onto the Central City Parkway at the Hidden Valley exist will be closed for a month. The reason is that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) needs to construct a temporary structure across Clear Creek to connect the frontage road directly to eastbound I-70 beyond the exit. Once that is done, the frontage road — onto the new ramps — will become I-70, during the year-long project to widen the eastbound tunnel bore into three lanes.
What this means is that if you head from Central City over to Idaho Springs — to shop at Safeway, for example — you can get there in the usual fashion, but coming back will prove to be a bit of a slog. What CDOT is recommending is that eastbound motorists wanting to get onto the Parkway should go past the exit another three miles to the top of Floyd Hill and get off at Beaver Brook (exit 247), then cross over the highway, head back along the frontage road and drop back onto I-70 coming down Floyd Hill.
Besides the additional mileage (and minutes), the effects on traffic are unknown. Certainly putting a bunch of additional vehicles onto Floyd Hill westbound doesn’t seem like a good idea (especially on Saturday mornings), and how badly will traffic back up at the Hidden Valley exit with both eastbound and westbound cards piling up at the same stoplight?
Of course, locals will recognize that, as long as you’re getting off at Beaver Brook, you can always continue down the frontage road to Highway 6, and turn right to connect up with Highway 119 into Black Hawk. The more hardy among us may just skip the highway altogether, and start using Virginia Canyon again (weather permitting) to get back home from Idaho Springs and points further west.
Also unknown are the effects on the casino industry that supports so much of County government operations. A fair number of visitors who are staying in Vail or Summit County for a week have been known to pay a visit to the casinos, as have Denver skiers who stop off to invest a few dollars in our local economy before heading home.
This will be ugly. We’ve posted a link to CDOT’s Twin Tunnels updates on our website and Facebook page, and you can sign up for Facebook and Twitter notifications through the main CDOT website. This year, February is going to be a very long month.