I-70 flood: Pumps didn’t turn on automatically as intended, contractor says

They say that they’re still confident that the system, when finished, will handle a lot of rain in a little time.
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Cars remain stranded on the new I-70 underpass through Elyria Swansea after heavy rains flooded the area on Aug. 7, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

A faulty pump system could be responsible for flooding on Interstate 70 in north Denver late Sunday, which stranded hundreds of motorists for more than an hour. 

The pumps that typically keep that lowered section of I-70 clear of water did not turn on automatically when they should have, said a spokesman for the contractor building the nearly complete $1.2 billion Central 70 project.

"Once this was determined Kiewit turned the pumps on manually," Kiewit Public Information Manager Matt Sanman wrote in a statement. "After the pumps turned on, the area was drained in a short period of time indicating that the pumps, once manually started, were working as intended and the error was corrected." 

The violent rainstorm dropped more than two inches of water and triggered localized flooding in some parts of the Denver metro. Denver fire officials reported no serious injuries.

Sanman said that while the stormwater drainage system isn't yet fully complete, the company is "confident it can and should work properly to successfully handle this and other more significant rain events."

Kiewit and the Colorado Department of Transportation are investigating so they can try to avoid future floods, said CDOT spokeswoman Stacia Sellers. In the meantime, Sanman said Kiewit has a new protocol in place to make sure the pumps will turn on when needed. 

Sanman also thanked the Denver Fire Department for rescuing stuck motorists and apologized to everyone affected. 

"Safety is always our top priority both during construction and after completion and we are committed to delivering a quality product for motorists and the community," he wrote.

Jeremy Jacobs, who lives a half-block from I-70 in Elyria-Swansea, said the rain started as a sprinkle before turning into a "torrential downpour" that appeared to fill the roadway with at least a few feet of water. But he says his block, perched above the highway just to the south, didn't see any flooding at all. 

"I just want to say these guys have done a great job," he said of the Kiewit construction crew. "They've worked their butts off. They are professional. They've done really well. It's a huge project. Stuff happens."

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