Back to News

December 18, 2023 Sturgeon Electric Pulls Together as a Company to Complete the Central 70 Project in Denver

C70 Highway expansion was Colorado’s largest transportation project ever

It was as he stood there looking to his right toward Pecos Street to the west before shifting his gaze left, staring out east toward Colorado Boulevard that it hit him.

A personal revelation. As Jim Bushnell describes it, his “aha moment.”

For the better part of four years, the Central 70 (C70) project – a $1.3 billion highway expansion project in the heart of Denver – was little more than a complex concept and then a massive design-build construction zone. It was the state’s grand aspiration to decongest one of Colorado’s economic backbones along a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 70 that critically connects the city to Denver International Airport. Easily the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) most ambitious and largest transportation initiative ever.

But it was here in 2019, a full year into the project, that Bushnell (a man with 40 years of experience in the industry) was struck by what he saw.

“It was like a revelation. This is like a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and about half the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit in place,” Sturgeon Electric’s vice president of transportation remembers. “The project is actually starting to look like what we thought it would look conceptually become. The light went on. It was really a cool thing for me personally.”

Bushnell’s revelation that day is more easily understood when you understand just how impressive the vision for C70 was when the project started as a design concept in 2015.

The concept called for the reconstruction of a 10-mile stretch of freeway from Brighton Boulevard in central Denver to Chambers Road in Aurora to the east. It would add a new express toll lane in each direction and remove a 57-year-old, 1.8-mile-long viaduct, replacing it with a lowered highway that included a 1,000-foot-long cap – a covered portion of the highway (known as “The Cover”) that would be the site of a four-acre park to help reconnect neighborhoods long divided by the old freeway.

Sturgeon Electric completed the electrical scope of work for the project, which included temporary and permanent traffic signals, roadway lighting, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), and electrical work for the four-acre park and all systems inside the tunnel underneath it, making C70 the largest single project CDOT had ever awarded and the largest single project in Sturgeon Electric’s Commercial & Industrial (C&I) division’s history at the time.

Colorado Transportation completed smart highway work as well as lighting and traffic signalization while Colorado Construction completed electrical work for The Cover.

However, because of the widening of the interstate and changing of infrastructure in the area, the utility needed to independently relocate high-voltage electrical and natural gas infrastructure along many portions of the project. This work was performed by Sturgeon Electric’s Transmission & Distribution (T&D) group through existing service agreements with the utility company, affording Sturgeon Electric a unique opportunity to fully serve the Denver community within the wider impact of a single project.

“I’m extremely proud of the work our company did,” Sturgeon Electric President, and Group COO of C&I, Don Egan said. “It’s not often we have the potential to bring all three groups together (transmission and distribution, inside electrical, and transportation) to execute one single project, working collaboratively to show our strength.”

The original C70 was locally referred to as the “Mousetrap” because any accident resulted in an immediate logjam of cars. Because it was so narrow, there were no shoulders to clear the wreckage.

Sturgeon Electric Senior Superintendent Jim Connell grew up in Denver and traveled the old I-70, remembering all too well how awful it would get. “I kind of lived in the bottleneck,” Connell jokes of the infamous Mousetrap. “I got on I-70 for 40 years by rebuilding it.”

The 57-year-old viaduct that carried traffic over existing railways was taken down, replaced by a 2.5-mile stretch of highway running below grade with a four-acre community park over the highway known as “The Cover.”

His dad even remembers when the original viaduct was built in the 1950s, taking photos of what at the time was a massive infrastructure project for a growing Denver. When Connell showed his dad photos of the viaduct’s modern-day demolition, he was quite impressed by the change.

“I travel the new I-70 quite a bit and it’s a very smooth and functional highway now,” Connell said. “It was a lot of work. It was a lot of long hours. It was daunting and overwhelming at first, and then as the project went along, we just broke it down into smaller chunks and it became more manageable that way. Overall, I think the project turned out extremely well, but it was a pretty tough project to do.”

The old viaduct – raised 30 feet above ground – needed to be torn down and the new freeway would instead run 30 feet below grade for a two-mile stretch to accommodate three railroad crossings that traverse I-70. The decision in the 50s to build the original highway above the train tracks meant a 60-year division of the Swansea and Elyria neighborhoods.

These two long-divided communities were once again reunited by The Cover, which includes a soccer field, playground, amphitheater, and City and County of Denver multi-use park adjacent to Swansea Elementary School, available for use by teachers and students.

All the new lighting, signage, added express lanes and widening of I-70 have greatly improved safety. A local hire requirement meant 20 percent of the total labor hours ultimately worked had to be performed by workers from 13 zip codes adjacent to the project (half of which were required to be new hires). In fact, Sturgeon Electric’s transportation group had to double its workforce to handle all the scopes of work of C70 and all of its other roadway projects. Sturgeon Electric also partnered with several minority contractors, sharing learning and growth opportunities.

A four-acre community park built over the below-grade stretch of highway reunited the long-divided Swansea and Elyria neighborhoods.

And most impressive of all, the three groups within Sturgeon Electric completed more than a million work hours over five years without a major safety incident. To put that figure into perspective, it’s the equivalent of one person working 24 hours a day of every week of every year for 114 straight years.

“It’s extremely impressive given all the conditions of the job that we didn’t have any serious safety incidents,” Egan said of the project’s safety record. “It really came down to the management, the planning, the layout, and the commitment of every single person making sure we took our time to safely execute our work.”

Seeing the project starting to come together back in 2019 was a revelation for Bushnell. The first true indication that the grand aspiration was indeed possible.

Looking at all 10,000 pieces of the puzzle perfectly in place now is simply historic.

“It was monumental. It was absolutely monumental,” Bushnell marvels with a distinct hint of well-earned pride in his voice. “Sturgeon Electric and its employees should be very proud of the end result and the process we used to get there. Whether it’s the collaboration of the departments, the opportunities afforded to our employees for their own personal development, or the reuniting of the community, we all had the opportunity to build a piece of infrastructure to improve public transportation, and that’s going to be there for at least the next 50 years; potentially 100 years.

“It’s a piece of history. We got to build a piece of Denver’s history between 2018 and 2023. That five years of design and construction, it’s really building and watching history being made before our eyes.”