DOTSERO, Colorado " Interstate 70 through Eagle County was closed over 43 times last winter. And if the snow continues to fall, as it has been for the past week, a deja vu of I-70 nightmares might happen.
But the Department of Transportation and local governments are determined to make truck drivers and other commuters as safe and comfortable as possible when the interstate is closed.
To that end, the first phase of a new truck parking area, replacing the Eagle fairgrounds truck parking, has been built in Dotsero. Planning began this summer, and the lot will open Jan. 1. The $2.2 million project will hold 180 trucks and give truckers a safe place to rest during long closures of I-70.
Peter Kozinski of the Department of Transportation said after last year's harsh winter, a solution was needed to get trucks safely off the roads.
"We recognized a need for a safe place for truckers to wait out the storms before putting chains on and making it up the hill," Kozinski said.
If truckers are forced to wait more then five hours to resume driving, care packages containing beef jerky, Oreos, trail mix, Vitamin Water and other snacks will be handed out by local emergency responders.
Truck driver Ev Jara stopped by the Dotsero facility to be a "test" recipient of a care package, Friday.
"We just read the signs that said 'pull over and pick up your gift bags,' so that is what we are doing," said Jara.
Jara also checked out the new facility " and liked what he saw.
"I think it is just in time. We had two accidents just this past weekend," said Jara. "There is a lot of room here, that is for sure."
But this new facility, complete with snacks, is only one step in a large project.
"We have plans for a lot of other truck parking facilities. But it is going to take a long, long time," said Kazinski.
In the meantime, other plans have been introduced to improve travel this winter along Eagle County's I-70 corridor.
Staged closure and release plans have been implemented. During prolonged eastbound closures, traffic will be distributed to communities along I-70 to prevent one town from being overwhelmed. The interstate will be gradually reopened to prevent gridlock. Only once stored traffic has been released will the interstate be officially reopened.
Approved vendors will also be allowed to sell chains and chain-up services between Dotsero and Denver.
East Vail Vehicle Access Placards will be handed out to regular travelers of neighborhoods east of Aspen Lane, allowing these drivers to gain access to the area when the interstate is closed.
A new chain-down station has been built in Vail, and new electronic report signs and speed limit signs have been installed.
Drivers can also tune in to 1610 AM, a new weather and traffic radio advisory system, to get updates.