CDOT will close I-70 next weekend as it prepares to shift traffic to a new lowered section, where crews have discovered some interesting artifacts.

Crews with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) who are moving more than a million cubic yards of material in north Denver in preparation for reconfiguring I-70 as part of a modernization project have unearthed some interesting things, including a fossilized camel. The camel was found near the Union Pacific Crossing.

"We've got over a million cubic yards of material that we will eventually move out of this lowered section," said Bob Hays, the Central 70 Project Director. "We were digging down by the Union Pacific Crossing and we came across a fossilized camel, and yes camel is what I said. Very interesting, kind of unique that we found that."

In addition, crews have excavated the old Swansea Elementary School, which was demolished and buried in 1957 when the new Swansea school was built. The turn-of-the-century schoolhouse contained asbestos, which had to be carefully removed and taken to a hazardous waste site.

The public is invited to tour the new lowered section of I-70 Saturday before it opens to learn about the project, the camel and school, and the history of the area.

CDOT is advising drivers to be aware of upcoming closures as it shifts traffic onto the new portions of the highway. The department plans to close eastbound and westbound I-70 between Washington Street and I-270 next weekend during the Mile High Shift. The closure will begin at 10 p.m. on Friday, May 21, and is scheduled to conclude at 5 a.m. on Monday, May 24.

The Mile High Shift will move all six lanes of traffic on I-70 from the existing viaduct onto the future westbound lanes of I-70 in the new lowered section between Brighton and Colorado Boulevards, CDOT said. The shift will allow crews to demolish the viaduct, which is 57 years old and structurally deficient. The department is calling the shift "historic," marking a new chapter in Colorado history as I-70 will be approximately 30 feet below ground.

Following the shift, motorists traveling east on I-70 can expect a gradual decline into the lowered section at Brighton Boulevard followed by a gradual leveling out and incline back to its current elevation by the time they reach Colorado Boulevard. The new alignment will route motorists under what will eventually be a public park for four blocks between Columbine and Clayton streets.

CDOT warned motorists to expect traffic to slow when vehicles enter the lowered section as drivers get used to the new environment. However, the department said the lowered section and tunnel are designed for normal traffic flow.

Other closures drivers should be aware of related to the shift include:

  • Full closure of the Colorado Boulevard on-ramp to westbound I-70 at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19, through 5 a.m. on Monday, May 24. Motorists should instead head east on 48th Avenue, turn south on Holly Street and take Stapleton North Drive to westbound I-70.
  • Eight-month closure of the eastbound I-70 off-ramp to Steele/Vasquez beginning on May 24. Access to Steele/Vasquez will be via Colorado Boulevard to 46th Avenue.
  • All other on- and off-ramps to both eastbound and westbound I-70 will be closed from 10 p.m. on Friday, May 21 to 5 a.m. on Monday, May 24.
  • Eastbound I-70 off-ramp to York Street will be closed permanently. Access will now be via Brighton Boulevard to York Street.
  • Steele/Vasquez on-ramp to eastbound I-70 will be closed permanently. Access I-70 via Colorado Boulevard.

The Mile High Shift is part of CDOT's Central 70 Project, a $1.2 billion effort to reconstruct a 10-mile stretch of I-70 between Brighton Boulevard and Chambers Road, including adding a new express lane in each direction, removing the viaduct, lowering the interstate, and building a park over a portion of the lowered roadway.

Will this "historic" shift be worth the hassle for Denver drivers? Sound off in the comments.