Readers have been wondering why 17th Avenue has been shut down to general traffic, from York Street to Colorado Boulevard, for nearly a year and why it’s torn up from Steele Street to Colorado.
The shutdown has irked some bikers, walkers, joggers and drivers whose usually smooth routes have been disrupted; though one resident rushing to a bus told us the construction has afforded the neighborhood a nice break from the constant traffic on 17th and that it’s now possible to cross that street without fearing death by car.
Here is why the road is torn up.
Parts of South Park Hill and nearby Hale and Montclair were built in the Montclair Basin, and some of the area was built on top of a two-pronged historic creek bed that had dried up.
Since Denver is dry much of the year, city planners have a long history of ignoring flood plains. But early Denverites built along the South Platte River and Cherry Creek and watched floods sweep away their makeshift homes and businesses.
In recent decades, the water that once flowed through those creek beds in the Montclair Basic has torn through the neighborhood. Floods have lifted cars and ruined basements. Now, the city’s trying to find a fix and reroute nature’s course, diverting the water to City Park and eventually the South Platte River.
“The storm water infrastructure installed in the 1930s became undersized for major storms as Denver continued to grow,” wrote Nancy Kuhn, the communications director for Denver Public Works. “This storm water improvement project is needed to address recurrent flooding issues in an area of town most at risk for flooding. For this system, we are building off improvements made previously in City Park and the goal as funding becomes available, is to reach and provide relief to well-known flood areas, including 14th Avenue and Krameria Street.”
The project, she explained, will slowly make its way up through the neighborhood as money allows. The timeline and sources of that money are unknown.
For now, workers are currently attempting to tunnel under Colorado Boulevard so traffic can continue to flow above.
“Because Colorado Boulevard moves large volumes of people each day, the project team chose the underground tunneling method to keep the stretch operating and people moving,” Kuhn said.
Crews are attempting to install massive drainage pipes that will hopefully prevent the kind of flooding that part of Denver has seen in the past.
If they make it under Colorado Boulevard, they will go a little further east up 17th to Albion and then the project will turn south.
But tunneling is taking longer than anybody anticipated. The people working on the project are assessing whether it’s going to work at all.
The big question: Why is their equipment not making better headway through the soil?
“In the next couple of weeks, they’ll determine if tunneling is still the best method to get that pipe installed or if an alternative method is needed,” Kuhn said.
Originally, the construction west of Colorado Boulevard was slated to be finished next month. But if you’ve passed the site lately, you’ll notice that the work seems far from complete.
There are many reasons, beyond the potential tunneling fiasco, that the timeline has been pushed back, Kuhn said.
Supply chain headaches and material shortages delayed the delivery of the storm water pipe under Colorado, she said. Workers caught COVID-19 during the omicron surge, and the contractor didn’t have enough staff to keep up with the project. The contractor even discovered a surprise fiber optic line under Colorado Boulevard that had to be removed.
“We had hoped to reopen East 17th Avenue west of Colorado Blvd in April,” Kuhn said. “We are now adjusting our timeline for fully reopening E 17th Avenue, west of Colorado Boulevard, to early June.”
What about the rest of the project east of Colorado Blvd.? Said Kuhn: “This project is expected to wrap up this summer.”
Update: This story has been updated to clarify the history of drainage in the area.