A major step forward for transportation occurred earlier this year with the approval of the Interstate 70 “Central 70” project by the federal government. This project involves the reconstruction of a 10-mile stretch between I-25 and Chambers Road and the replacement of a 50-year-old viaduct on I-70. With the approval, the Colorado Department of Transportation could begin work in early 2018.
The project’s name is particularly fitting not only because of its geography within our state but also the “central” importance of this project to the economy of our state.
The Central 70 project is the culmination of a lengthy public process that involved a wide range of groups whose interests intertwine on this critical corridor. A testament to the success of this process is the many compromises made among the parties toward finding a solution that balanced the interests of the state, local residents and the business community.
Because much of the attention has been on local issues, we tend to lose sight that I-70 is more than a neighborhood roadway. It is, in fact, one of two major east-west interstates that link our country from coast to coast. In this capacity, it is a critical artery for business, trade and tourism.
As one example of the importance of this corridor, we need look no further than to Western Colorado. Without I-70, our ski industry, which straddles this corridor through the mountains, would not have begun flourishing and generating the billions of dollars in economic activity annually that it does today.
From a business perspective the value of I-70 cannot be understated. This corridor along with I-25 is the lifeblood for movement of goods and materials throughout our state. The ability to move crucial goods efficiently and safely along these highways ensures the quality of life that we enjoy today. As our economy is driven more by e-commerce and more products are transported to and through Colorado from across the country, I-70 will further increase in importance.
While I-70 is critical for commerce on a state and national level, it is also vital for many local companies that have specifically located along it. Tucked within the project area are over 1,200 businesses, for whom many transportation costs are a major consideration. These businesses include warehousing, manufacturing, trucking and others. For those businesses, the greater mileage, associated with an alternate alignment to the north, would mean higher costs which could jeopardize their business.
Convenient access to I-70 is also critical for many of these businesses. Additional time or delays for the shipment or receipt of goods in our “just in time” business environment, can result in a production lines being shut down or construction projects being halted.
Many of these same businesses in this corridor also employ people living within the area. This makes for a short commute or even a situation where they may not need a car. A number of these jobs are in blue-collar industries that pay significantly better than other jobs available in the city. These businesses also contribute to the local economy by patronizing local restaurants and businesses.
If I-70 were relocated to the north, not only would the highway move but we could see many of these local businesses do the same. Just as many of them originally chose this location for its proximity to I-70, many may choose to move if the corridor were realigned to the north. As a result, Denver could lose a number of these businesses and the jobs that go with them.
While I-70 has served us well, the need to reconstruct it is all too evident. The rusted viaduct and daily gridlock are visual reminders of it. A less noticeable impact though is the hidden costs associated with this congestion. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently estimated that traffic congestion in the Denver Metro Area costs businesses using trucks over $1 million per day. Much of this “cost of congestion” can be attributed directly to I-70 and, more specifically, the stretch to be reconstructed. These increased costs are in turn passed on to you in the form of higher prices for goods and services.
All of this is to say that the Central 70 Project is a critical project for the future welfare of our state and is a venture that merits our support.