CLEAR CREEK COUNTY — Early this year there were questions — and worries — about a major construction project on Interstate 70 and how it might affect summer tourism.
The Colorado Department of Transportation started promoting its $100 million “Twin Tunnels” construction project near Idaho Springs early on. There was a major information campaign, and loads of information about the eastbound detour around the tunnel being widened. There was also a campaign to tell Front Range travelers that the mountains were “open for business” even as the project began.
Mountain business owners were encouraged to urge tourists to stay later on Sundays, or, in some cases, delay their trips home until Monday.
That pre-construction deluge of information led to some anxiety among business owners. Today, with the project expected to be finished in the next few weeks, it seems as if the predictions of potential delays and traffic tie-ups never came to pass.
Colorado Mountain Express puts several vehicles a day on I-70 between Eagle County and Denver. Company representative John Dawsey said for the most part, the Twin Tunnels work went smoothly though the heart of summer, when I-70 traffic counts are highest.
“There really turned out to be much less (disruption) than we expected,” Dawsey said. The company anticipated delays, and with some scheduling changes, was able to work around the construction schedule, he added.
Dawsey said even blasting delays — which closed I-70 in both directions — were almost always kept to the promised 20 minutes.
“That was really consistent,” Dawsey said.
In Eagle County, there were few, if any, complaints about the work. Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer said this week he hadn’t heard any discouraging news from the business community.
“Mountain tourism seemed to do very well over the summer,” Romer said. Earlier this year, state transportation officials several times said the Twin Tunnels work would be “short-term pain” for “long-term gain,” meaning that an extra traffic lane added closer to Idaho Springs would help ease Sunday-afternoon traffic delays for eastbound motorists.
“But I don’t think we saw much short-term pain,” Romer said.
Preparing for traffic delays, the Antlers Lodge in Vail in the spring announced that guests could check out as late as 6 p.m. on Sunday if people wanted to wait a few hours to start home.
Antlers general manager Rob LeVine said a few people a week took advantage of the late check-out. Interestingly, LeVine said a program a few years ago that gave guests a free night of lodging on Sunday if they stayed Friday and Saturday nights was hardly used at all.
LeVine said he also hadn’t heard any highway horror stories, from business owners or guests.
That comes down to planning and execution, LeVine said.
“It’s a little like the town of Vail, which does a good job of planning, and then no one notices,” LeVine said.
Department of transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said that planning, along with a good contractor — KOJV — doing the work led to a smooth project. And, Wilson said, that work will be largely complete by early December. Only a major spell of bad weather would delay completion even until Christmas, he said.
While the blasting and road-building part of the project is nearly complete, final touches such as landscaping and painting will be finished in the spring of 2014, Wilson said.