U.S. 36 Express Lanes
U.S. 36 Express Lanes
A significant Colorado Department of Transportation project came on-line in 2016, creating a litany of “firsts” for the state, alleviating years of traffic congestion. The $430 million two-phase U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project created Colorado’s first multimodal thruway—featuring new tolled/High-Occupancy Vehicle express lanes, a bikeway and bus rapid transit service.
Since 1952, this scenic 18 miles of U.S. 36 has served as a corridor for people and products moving between Boulder and Denver. Originally slated to be addressed 20 years in the future, a continual influx of people and commerce heightened safety concerns as the corridor was up to 90 percent capacity during peak drive times.
Ames/Granite Joint Venture, with HDR as lead designer, was selected as the design-build team for Phase I, addressing the first 11 miles between downtown Denver to the communities of Superior and Louisville. Budgetary constraints led to CDOT’s first ever public-private partnership to complete Phase II improvements to Boulder. Plenary Roads Denver was the concessionaire, Ames/Granite Joint Venture as the design-builder with HDR as the lead designer, responsible for overall project management.
The redesign of the U.S. 36 Express Lanes uses an Intelligent Transportation System to improve traffic safety and flow. Our design team integrated electronic overhead gantry signs, spanning all six lanes, with the Colorado Traffic Management Center. This is part of an innovative, first-in-the state Active Traffic Management system where traffic is dynamically managed by monitoring traffic flow, speed limits and use of managed traffic lanes during peak hours. We designed the seven electronic toll collection points, corridor-wide CCTV cameras, variable messaging signs, bus stations and passenger information displays.
Safety was enhanced with the installation of a diverging diamond interchange (DDI) at McCaslin Blvd. The interchange crosses traffic to the opposite side of the road, allowing unimpeded left turns onto freeway ramps and fewer conflict points. Also added were separate bike and pedestrian pathways featuring protective barriers. This DDI is unique as it is the first in the country to incorporate BRT bus stops into the core of the DDI.
The continuous bikeway is another first for the state and gives bike commuters “a highway for cycling.” The route runs between Boulder and Denver, paralleling the highway. It features underpasses, wayfinding signage and automated bicycle counters. It ties into local master cycle plans and connects to six Regional Transportation District stations, making it easy, safe and convenient for cyclists to plan route destinations.
A transit-friendly component included increasing shoulder widths to allow BRT buses a new lane of access when traffic slows to a designated speed—representing yet another first for Colorado. Creation of the 18-mile stretch dedicated to BRT includes six stations, transit signal priority at intersections and a pedestrian bridge and bus pullouts.
Principal Project Manager Wes Kindt said early in the design phase, interest from the 10-plus municipalities along the corridor in how P3 projects function, as well as aesthetic concerns and fears of construction-related traffic delays by the traveling public, led to a proactive public involvement approach that involved the entire project delivery team.
“Both phases had a lot of interaction between the various communities along the corridor, the owner and the design-build team,” he said. “We were an active part of the conversation and took an active role in developing a communications approach to address concerns and provide stakeholders relevant and timely information.”
Stakeholders were able to offer frequent and open communication about both long- and short-term plans via multiple media platforms. Maintenance of Traffic (MOT) plans and outreach events kept the travelling public informed with real-time updates, which included creation of a cell phone app that provided corridor travel conditions.
Creation of the multimodal corridor represents a combined effort of sustainable solutions and environmental considerations. A sophisticated “green” water management system controls influent and effluent water along the highway. Commuters now have several choices for commuting, including car, bus and bicycle. The chosen design, integrating BRT and encouraging ride sharing, is estimated to reduce carbon emissions by 25,000 tons annually while increasing vehicle miles traveled by 4,4462,030 per day by 2035.