Colorado: I-70 pace-car program gets another test

CDOT says ‘rolling speed harmonization’ helps reduce accidents that can result in serious traffic backups

I-70 has become a test area for a large-scale attempt to manage traffic congestion by pacing cars.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Colorado Department of Transportation continues to fine-tune a pace car program on I-70 with the goal of smoothing the Denver-bound flow of traffic during the peak skier-return time on Sunday afternoon.

Under the program, formally called rolling speed harmonization, police vehicles lead columns of cars from just west of the Eisenhower Tunnel to the bottom of Floyd Hill, trying to maintain speeds between 35 and 55 mph.

The program is on again for this Sunday (Fb. 26) starting between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. when highway traffic reaches a certain density. If the traffic gets too busy, the pacing will be aborted.

Police officers also will be manually metering the ramps coming from Loveland Pass and Empire Junction (U.S. 40) during the program, enable vehicles to better merge onto I-70.

CDOT is reminding drivers to please comply with directions from the lead police vehicle, including NOT passing the police car pacing traffic.

“Last year’s travel time on the comparable Sunday {February 27, 2011} was 72 minutes, and our goal is to maintain that kind of reasonable travel time with speed harmonization Sunday,” said CDOT regional transportation director Tony DeVito.

“The primary goal of this program is improving safety along the corridor and reducing accidents, which is a big contributor to traffic congestion.”

The purpose of RSH is to create more uniform vehicle speeds, helping to improve safety, reduce traffic crashes and improve traffic flow on the corridor by delaying the onset of congestion.

The concept is similar to pouring rice into a funnel. If poured at a gradual rate, more grains pass through the funnel. But if poured too quickly, it clogs. When traffic moves at a more uniform rate, more vehicles can pass through, more efficiently. Differentials in vehicle speeds lead to a higher probability of accidents which, in turn, substantially increases congestion.

In some instances, RSH may not significantly improve travel times from the previous year, however the hope is that it will create better predictability by reducing accidents and other incidents caused by congestion so that motorist can better plan and know what to expect for their travel time.

Based on the first few tests, CDOT has stopped using pace cars on the eastbound tunnel approach, instead focusing on the section east of the tunnel. The agency is also waiting until later in the day to start the pacing.

During the pacing, drivers need to know that they won’t be able to jump ahead and drive any faster. Groups of vehicles are slowed to leave a greater distance between each group. This is to allow traffic to flow more smoothly. While a motorist may think the road is clear ahead and feel the urge to go faster since they don’t see the other vehicles, the reality is they would just drive faster and catch up with the next group, resulting in more traffic grouping together and backups to occur.

When pacing is in effect, CDOT suggests drivers should:

  • Relax and be patient
  • Avoid changing lanes unless it is absolutely critical due to debris or some other issue;
    both lanes should travel at the same speed, so “jockeying for position” is irrelevant
  •  It is fine to pass slow moving vehicles like semi trucks, to maintain the paced speed of your group
  • Leave adequate space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you (ideally, one car length for every 10 mph; four to five car lengths at 40-50 mph)
  • Keep your eyes up; don’t focus on the rear of the vehicle in front of you
  •  RSH involves the regulation of traffic by law enforcement in an effort to ensure safe and speedy movement of traffic through the I-70 corridor.
  • Vehicles traveling on I-70 during RSH may not overtake the lead law-enforcement vehicle at any time.
  • Any vehicle that overtakes the lead law-enforcement vehicle will be contacted by a law enforcement officer.
  • The contacting officer will take appropriate enforcement action against the driver of the overtaking vehicle.

2 thoughts on “Colorado: I-70 pace-car program gets another test

  1. Makes no sense…They are going to do RSH when the traffic is thinner (11am – 1pm) than the normal “rush hour.” You can make good time during this period normally. All this will do is make your trip slower. Why don’t they do it from 12 midnight to 4am? Then it can be declared a success.

    1. Now we can’t even drive the speed limit when we want because some bureaucrat thinks it is safer. Our civil liberties are continually taken away from us.

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