Interstate 70 commences a cross country route just west of Baltimore, Maryland. Posted just beyond I-695 is this distance sign with cities of Columbus, Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri and Denver, Colorado. Cove Fort, a small outpost in central Utah, is located at west end, where I-70 converges with I-15. This sign is a replacement of a ground level sign destroyed during a truck crash in 2010. 06/08/12
Traversing nearly the width of the United States, Interstate 70 serves major metropolitan areas such as Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Columbus and Baltimore. The west end of the freeway connects with Interstate 15 at Cove Fort, Utah. There are no plans to extend I-70 west beyond that point, and most westbound traffic is funneled via I-15 to Southern California and via U.S. 50 to Northern California.
The bulk of the western extent of Interstate 70 passes through expansive high desert and the scenic Rocky Mountains. Until 1990, a section of I-70 remained with just two lanes across central Utah. The freeway across Colorado was also completed later, with the expensive section through Glenwood Canyon finished in 1992.
Interstate 70 at Silt, Colorado. The freeway straddles the Roan Cliffs west to Rifle. 08/11/16
Leaving the Denver metropolitan area, Interstate 70 traverses the Great Plains from Eastern Colorado into Kansas. The route through the Midwest crosses the width of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Several derivative routes for I-70 are designated in the larger cities of Kansas City and St. Louis. Notably, two branches of I-470 are located within 60 miles of each other.
Interstate 70 passes through six tunnels between Grand Junction and Denver, Colorado. The Hanging Lake Tunnels here are located at Shoshone in Glenwood Canyon. 08/11/16
Through Ohio, Interstate 70 crosses Dayton and Columbus, then briefly enters West Virginia at Wheeling. Entering Pennsylvania, Interstate 70 combines I-79 at Washington and then with the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) east from New Stanton to Breezewood. I-70 traffic must follow U.S. 30 through the business district in Breezewood to connect with the freeway leading south to Maryland from the PA Turnpike. There are no plans to create a direct connection between I-70 and I-76.
Interstate 70 ends rather ignobly at a Park and Ride at Baltimore, just east of the exchange with I-695. The continuation of the freeway to I-95 was removed from the city’s transportation plan and was never constructed.
Looking west across Vail Pass (elevation 10,666 feet above sea level) in Colorado, Interstate 70 leaves Summit County and enters Eagle County. Even in autumn and spring, snow is a frequent occurrence here. Photo by Jeff Royston (11/18/06).
Between Denver and Limon in Colorado, Interstate 70 is part of High Priority Corridor 38: Ports to Plains Corridor. In addition, the section of Interstate 70 through Missouri is part of High Priority Corridor 61: Missouri Corridors.
Parallel U.S. Routes
From Cove Fort east to Green River, Interstate 70 largely follows U.S. 50, although prior to the construction of the freeway, U.S. 50 instead followed the route of U.S. 6 west to Delta. Between Green River and Grand Junction, Interstate 70 remains merged with U.S. 6-50. U.S. 50 splits south at Grand Junction, leaving I-70 to follow U.S. 6 from Grand East to Denver.
U.S. 40 meets Interstate 70 for the first time at Empire, and these two routes intertwine from there east to Baltimore. I-70 follows U.S. 40 out of Denver to Limon, where it combines with U.S. 24 east to Goodland and Colby, Kansas. Interstate 70 angles southeast from U.S. 24 at Colby to rejoin U.S. 40 at Oakley, Kansas. East from there, I-70 and U.S. 40 generally overlap to St. Louis, with a few exceptions. East of St. Louis, I-70 and U.S. 40 parallel each other closely, with a deviation from Washington, Pennsylvania, to Hancock, Maryland. However, once in Maryland, Interstate 70 again closely follows U.S. 40 all the way into Baltimore.
Not necessarily an improvement for the Interstate, but an improvement for Baltimore area commuters was the planned Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) Red Line along the 1.95-mile long I-70 spur within the Beltway (I-695). The proposed subway line was to utilize a portion of the I-70 right of way, with the existing six-lane freeway converted into a two-lane parkway. Additionally the interchange (Exit 94) between the I-70 east end at MD 122 (Security Boulevard) was slated for removal and replacement with an at-grade intersection. Cooks Boulevard, maintained by the Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA), would overtake former I-70 west to the four level interchange with I-695. Truncation of I-70 was approved by the the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) U.S. Route Numbering Committee on May 29, 2014. However funding for the Red Line project was ultimately withdrawn.
Within Columbus, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) studied several options to deal with worsening congestion in Downtown in the early 2000s. Some of the options include converting portions of Interstate 70 into an at-grade boulevard, adding various collector distributor lanes parallel to the freeway, additional lanes, or doing nothing.
One option considered was to reroute Interstate 70 south of its current alignment between Exit 98/U.S. 42 and a point near Milepost 106. This plan would take I-70 onto a new alignment at Exit 98, connecting with Interstate 71 and SR 104 south of Downtown and continuing southeast of the former Cooper Stadium. East from there, I-70 would overtake SR 104, and a new connection would be constructed in the vicinity of U.S. 33 (Exit 105) linking the new route to the existing I-70. In exchange, the former route of Interstate 70 between Exits 98 and 105 A, including the notorious interchange with I-71, would be replaced with a 35 MPH boulevard.17
Another option presented by ODOT in November 2003, proposed separating through traffic on I-70/71 from Downtown-bound traffic, possibly through the use of collector distributor lanes. According to the Columbus Dispatch,
the plan would eliminate highway lane changes by dedicating three lanes of traffic to I-70, two lanes to I-71 and creating collector distributor streets above the highway for motorists getting to and from two sets of Downtown ramps.
As the study progressed between 2002 and 2004, various alternatives were considered, eliminated, or adopted for further consideration. According to the ODOT I-70/I-71 South Innerbelt Corridor Study, construction of one of three possible alternatives (involving the location and layout of the collector distributor lanes) would have begun in 2008 and ended in late 2010. Design of the project began in 2005.6
Rebranded as the I-70/I-71 Downtown Ramp Up, this $1.4 billion mega project addresses congestion along the I-70/71 overlap through central Columbus. The six phase project kicked off with a revamp of the I-71/670 interchange between 2011-2013. Phase 2 entailed redesigning the eastern junction of I-70/71 to eliminate left exit ramps and ultimately split the two routes into separate roadways. Construction underway in Summer 2017 added an additional lane along both directions of I-70/71. A new ramp was also constructed from I-70 east at Parsons Avenue to replace the exit at 18th Street. It opened to traffic on December 20, 2019. Costing $82 million, Phase 2E work wrapped up in Summer 2022.
Columbus Crossroads Phases and Funding schedule as of March 2016.
Phase 3B – $41 million, work from Spring 2020 to Summer 2022 expanded I-71 from Broad Street to Long Street and replaced the Broad Street overpass.
Phase 4R/6R – $280 million, construction commenced in Spring 2022 and extends to Fall 2025. Phase 4R – Front Street Gateway adds a ramp from I-70 east to Fulton Street and replaces bridges for Fulton Street over I-70 and I-70 over Short Street. Phase 6R – West Interchange builds a new ramp from Mount Street to I-71 south and reconstructs the ramp from Mound Street to I-70 west among other improvements to Mound Street.
Phase 4B – $246 million, planned for Fall 2023 to Fall 2026. Reconstructs both roadways along I-70 between Front Street and Grant Avenue and I-70 east from I-71 to High Street. Reconstructs bridges on I-70 west over the Scioto River, SR 315 and Short Street.
Phase 5 is part of the I-70 Far East Freeway project, $433 million in construction started in Spring 2022. With work separated into four projects, construction rebuilds interchanges at I-270/Brice Road, U.S. 33/Petzinger Road, Hamilton Road and SR 256/Taylor Road. Project 1 at I-270 upgrades the exchange into a cloverstack, eliminating a weaving traffic pattern.