colorado nature

Colorado Road Construction Must Not Receive Another Penny

So long as we cannot prioritize options that reduce congestion and carbon emissions, roadway expansion must not receive another penny of funding.

COVID-19 has caused delays for several road projects, but some are making headway. Colorado Department of Transportation communications manager Stacia Sellers reports that Central 70 is still set to open next spring as planned.

Paved Roads

Colorado state highways are public paved roads funded and maintained by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), typically abbreviated as SH. Their numbers start from one and increase gradually until reaching those already designated as United States Numbered Highways or Interstate Highways.

At the turn of the 20th Century, there was a movement to construct better roads in America. Colorado was among those pushing hard to have more paved roads but state officials were reluctant to do so since car ownership should cover their cost – Spencer Penrose for one bought one every year and built a road all the way to Pikes Peak’s summit.

Once paved, roads were heavily used. In 1908, the legislature appropriated $2,000 to the state engineer to purchase 31 signs that marked State Highways; marking Colorado highways officially with official state highway signs.

By the late 19th Century, there were numerous named motor trails traversing California; civic and commercial groups raised funds to build, plow, promote and mark these highways with multicolored rectangular signs.

At first, highway construction was conducted using convict labor; this labor was free; however Colorado quickly implemented a gas tax in order to cover road building expenses; they were one of the first states to implement such legislation.

Colorado currently boasts more than 2,800 lane miles of paved roadways, divided into three main categories of road. Arterials feature higher speeds with truck, bus and automobile traffic that typically requires four or more lanes for passage; collectors collect traffic from local streets before funneling it toward arterials; while residential streets feature lower speeds with much less vehicular activity.

Colorado roads are mostly in fair to good condition, requiring only minor maintenance to keep them looking their best. There are however certain spots of roadway that need regular attention in order to prevent further deterioration; you can check your street’s pavement quality index (PQI) using our interactive map.

Mountain Passes

Few things in Colorado inspire and terrify like driving over one of its mountain passes. Winding asphalt threads take drivers through alpine tundra and midsummer snowbanks before leading them through grassy valleys with breathtaking views and grassy valleys surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas. Some passes feature traditional brown-and-tan Forest Service signs or green-and-white DOT signs while others might just feature road signs with dirt turnoffs as landmarks.

With their steep grades, tight turns and sudden drops, mountain passes present even veteran drivers with an intense driving challenge. Some may fear these winding, rocky routes; once you understand their fundamentals however, mountain pass driving becomes just another highway route to navigate.

No matter if you prefer challenging yourself with some of the highest mountain passes in the world or taking it easy on one of our many scenic byways, there will be ample places for you to take pleasure in your ride. From over 12,000-foot paved passes that offer magnificent views of Rocky Mountain peaks such as 14ers (mountains that rise more than 14,000 feet) to rugged unpaved backroads covered with rock, mud, and gravel; there’s something here for every rider in Colorado!

Colorado is home to several notable mountain passes, such as Cameron Pass, McClellan Pass and Imogene Pass – one of America’s highest driveable passes which connect Ouray to Telluride via an unpaved ridge. However, driving on these high elevation passes requires high clearance four wheel drive vehicle equipped with extra skill behind the wheel.

CDOT is working to upgrade this mountain pass by widening and improving its shoulders. While not yet underway, once completed this project will provide safer travel for both cars and trucks while maintaining its rural character. Length and weight restrictions would remain in place for vehicles.


Highways like the C-470 toll road loop serving Denver Metro serve tens of thousands of vehicles each day and become extremely congested during rush hour traffic, creating hazardous driving conditions. On June 17th, Gov. Hickenlooper signed into law an additional $5.3 billion funding package that will increase roadway capacity.

As well as expanding roadway capacity, these funds will go toward safety improvements and maintenance on existing roads. Furthermore, this bill aims to promote more sustainable transportation by offering alternative transit options and improving connections in rural areas. Furthermore, funding increases will allow for expansion of lane capacity on Interstate 25, which connects Denver to Fort Collins commuter traffic as well as those traveling into the mountains.

Construction sites often see heavy use and can experience delays at peak travel times, making car services, ridesharing apps and public transit alternatives an excellent way to navigate them more smoothly and avoid congestion altogether. Should an incident arise during your commute be sure to reach out immediately for legal representation from experienced car accident lawyers.

Colorado’s roadway system was intended to support 3.5 million residents; now that population has ballooned to 5.8 million and congestion has become an increasing challenge. Unfortunately, transportation investments have failed to keep pace with population growth; without an updated, efficient, resilient transportation infrastructure fighting traffic will remain part of daily life for Coloradoans.

This historical context serves to provide a brief overview of Colorado state roads and highways built or maintained by the Department of Transportation or its predecessor agencies, rather than being intended as a comprehensive history. Furthermore, this does not cover roadside architecture such as roadside commercial or residential architecture discussed earlier under Historic Trails.


Colorado’s state highway system features an expansive network of two- and four-lane roadways managed by CDOT, overseen by state law.

The agency oversees an ever-increasing fund of $1.6 billion designated for road projects. Most of this fund was made possible thanks to several pieces of legislation passed by lawmakers between 2017 and 2019 that allow for certificates of participation secured against state property as borrowing instruments, budget set-asides, or both.

This money should provide enough for an increase in road construction across the state, particularly major stretches of Interstate 70 in the mountains, including Floyd Hill on westbound I-70 where backups frequently form, as well as congestion-plagued I-25 in Denver metro. Both could benefit from early implementation.

Colorado’s road construction program faces considerable difficulties. A report released by libertarian think tank Reason Foundation shows that Colorado ranks poorly on various measures measuring performance and cost-effectiveness of state-controlled highways, such as condition and traffic congestion of Interstates; more significantly, over 6% of rural Interstate pavement is in poor condition – more than double what its peer state Arizona reports for poor conditions on Interstate pavements.

When construction begins, signs and websites will indicate which lanes have been closed off for motorists to navigate safely to their destinations and keep a distance from construction equipment and barriers. Alternate routes must also be utilized by drivers in order to reach their destinations as safe distance is important during this process.

This map from Colorado Department of Transportation displays major highway construction projects throughout Colorado. Clicking on markers reveals more information on each project.

The Colorado Department of Transportation provides this map that displays all state highways in Colorado. Users can zoom into any detail on each roadway, as well as information such as type, speed limit and lane restrictions for each route. Users can download a PDF version from their website to access this scalable map.