IDAHO SPRINGS - For the first time in nearly 50 years, the interstate into the mountains has been expanded. The eastbound Twin Tunnel just east of Idaho Springs now has three lanes and may be the key to further expansion into the future on Interstate 70.
"Today, we planted a new heart and breathe life into the future development of I-70. Congratulations," Tim Mauck, county commissioner for Clear Creek County, said.
For years, traffic problems during the weekend, especially during ski season have become so prevalent, the state has investigated several solutions to easing congestion. One of the main issues has always been getting enough cars through what's called a choke point at the Twin Tunnels.
"Thanks to the widening of the eastbound Twin Tunnels, motorists are going to see somewhere between a 5-to-10 percent reduction in travel time," Gov. John Hickenlooper, (D) Colorado, said. "
The $106 million dollar project not only expanded the tunnel from two lanes to three lanes. The eastbound two miles after the tunnel have also been expanded to get more cars moving through.
"The pain that we've had a little bit through our city of Idaho Springs is well worth the gain and the return that we're going to get from it," Idaho Springs Mayor Mike Hillman said.
Maybe the happiest person to see the tunnel finished is Marjorie Bell.
"I live on the frontage road right where they're doing all the construction," Bell said. "I think I'm the only property that's been the most impacted by all this."
When the project started about eight months ago, I-70 traffic was detoured directly around her home on the frontage road along Clear Creek.
Bell was here 50 years ago during the last major interstate expansion into the mountains - called I-70.
"I was born in Idaho Springs, so I saw every change come along," Bell said.
That includes the build-up of traffic problems on the weekends during the ski season and popular travel times during the summer.
"Well, it could almost be [a] dead stop and then sometimes, it's moving maybe 5-to-10 miles per hour," Bell said.
With the completion of the eastbound Twin Tunnel, the state is looking at expanding the westbound Twin Tunnel to three lanes, as well. State leaders say there are still some hurdles left to clear before that project can be officially started.
The major project involves widening the eastbound shoulder from the U.S. 40 exit, which goes to Winter Park, to the Twin Tunnels. That would allow CDOT to open a third lane onto the shoulder during peak travel times.
"I think it will be positive, yes," Bell said. "But, I don't know how long it'll last because if you build it, they come."
Even though the eastbound Twin Tunnel is finished, the detours need to be moved. Next week, I-70 will be reduced to one-lane for several days until the tunnel can be finally opened to cars on Friday.
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)