CDOT says it’s business as usual, with the focus on public safety
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — When traffic on the eastbound approach to the Eisenhower Tunnel backed up as far as the Frisco exit in early January, local officials got an earful from travelers who got stuck in the jam. Now, the county commissioners want to ask Colorado Department of Transportation officials about traffic management through the tunnel to see of they’re doing anything different to cause greater delays on the west side of the Divide.
The commissioners briefly discussed the issue at a Jan. 26 work session, with an eye toward next week’s quarterly meeting with CDOT, when they plan to raise the issue with state highway officials.
“This is different from what we’ve typically seen,” said commissioner Thomas Davidson, referring to some of the early January jams.
“It’s not getting rave reviews from the public,” said assistant county manager Scott Vargo. “What is the purpose of metering? To move the traffic jam from the east side to the west side?” Vargo said.
At a joint Frisco town council-BOCC meeting later the same day, Frisco town manager Michael Penny raised the same issue.
“There is something different going on with metering,” Penny said.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor said he hadn’t received any complaints and was not aware of any changes in CDOT operations.
Tunnel superintendent Mike Salamon said CDOT is following the same procedures it has for at least 15 years. The only change is that they’ve done more to try and inform the public about efforts to manage traffic through the tunnel.
The main goal of stopping cars on the west side of the mountains is to prevent standstill traffic inside the tunnel for obvious safety reasons, Salamon said. If there’s a need, emergency vehicles need to be able to get inside the tunnel without obstacles, he said.
When traffic comes to stop inside the tunnel, CDOT stops traffic at the west portal to let the queue clear, he said.
Heavy tourist traffic after New Years this year required several lengthy halts, including one 40-minute period when no traffic was permitted to start up the grade and into the tunnel.
“The backups have been severe,” Salamon acknowledged. CDOT has been making more of an outreach effort to let people know about the metering via electronic signs along the highway and on various traffic information web sites.
“We watch the queue carefully,” Salamon said, explaining that he halted the eastbound flow through the tunnel seven times on Jan. 2. “We’re shoving three lanes of traffic into two. When Loveland Ski Area lets out, it almost like putting four lanes into two,” he said.
By keeping an eye on traffic downstream of the tunnel (toward Denver), he know when he has to stop traffic on the eastbound approach. The backups on the east side can be affected by many things, including blowing snow, accidents or even just a couple of slow cars poking along in the fast lane.
“We’d be happy if we don’t have to do it on a weekend. I’d be happy if we didn’t have to do it again all year,” he said.
CDOT will start posting more detailed messages on traffic metering on the electronic sign boards.
And the I-70 Coalition has up-to-date traffic information at goi70.com.