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Springs residents grill CDOT on I-70 shoulder lane

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Twin Tunnels work creating jam-weary commuters

By Beth Potter

Idaho Springs residents had lots of questions for state transportation officials at a meeting Monday night to discuss a planned toll lane on eastbound Interstate 70.

Transportation officials plan to spend $49 million on a “peak-period shoulder lane” from Empire to east of Idaho Springs, according to Tony DeVito, regional director for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Tired of months of traffic jams related to construction at the Twin Tunnels, many residents complained about plans for the shoulder lane. Officials said work on the lane is planned to start in June, and it should be ready by fall 2015.

Dumont resident Dan Ebert supports plans to ease congestion, but he’s not sure drivers should have to pay tolls. DeVito said that while no toll amounts have been set, revenue is expected to go back into highway operations or other corridor improvements. Ebert owns Two Brothers Deli in Idaho Springs and manages The Buffalo Restaurant and Bar.

“If you get into the lane at Empire, can you get out at Idaho Springs and not pay a toll?” Ebert asked. “The public needs to know if they can get out.”

Specific details of tolls and tolling have not been worked out, officials have said. Drivers would be able to buy a transponder, or a mounted camera could read car license plates, said Steve Long, a consultant at HDR Engineering Inc. in Denver, a firm currently working on the project.

Transportation officials plan to build 11 retaining walls along the corridor to handle the widening, Long said, and all widening will be within existing CDOT rights-of-way. Two bridges in Idaho Springs are slated to be rebuilt, along with two emergency pullout areas. CDOT would erect 19 new overhead signs, although many would be turned on only during peak periods, Long said.

Long said transportation officials want to make sure they take local residents into account during the construction and afterward.

“When traffic is moving, you will not have people exiting and trying to cheat the highway system,” Long said. “We’re anticipating fewer crashes and less severe traffic.”

At the same time, numerous residents at Monday’s meeting asked officials for more daily information about rock scaling currently being done at the westbound bore of the Twin Tunnels project. CDOT officials have said they plan 30-minute closures of the highway to blast, followed by 45 minutes to “clear the queue” of cars. Drivers should expect blasting to occur between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., according to information on the CDOT website and signs posted on the highway.

“There’s a lot of confusion. We’re trying to get information a lot more accurate with the schedule, and we know you guys are trying to plan your days around the schedule,” said Crystal Morgan, a CDOT spokeswoman. “If you have a problem, I really want to address it. We want to work with the local communities to make this the least painful as we can.”

Blasting must be done during the day rather than at night because of federal regulations, officials have said. The widening of  the westbound bore is scheduled to be completed in December. A third westbound traffic lane leading from and to the Twin Tunnels is expected to open within five to 10 years.