Unprepared drivers among Interstate 70 problems? | VailDaily.com

Unprepared drivers among Interstate 70 problems?

EAGLE COUNTY — Who caused the closures on Interstate 70 that made traveling on the mountain corridor last winter a nightmare? It seems to depend on who you ask. Some angry drivers might say the Colorado Department of Transportation, while others will say out-of-towners and semi-truck drivers, and others still will insist it's Colorado locals. Officials and lawmakers are trying to answer that question as they look to ease congestion and accidents on the stretch between Denver and Vail. Eagle County businesses are especially eager for solutions before the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. At a recent meeting hosted by the Colorado Lodging and Hotel Association, state lawmakers such as representatives Diane Mitsch Bush and Millie Hamner, Republican nominee for governor Bob Beauprez and officials from Vail Resorts, Colorado Mountain Express and Colorado Ski Country discussed possible solutions for the too frequent jam-ups. The Colorado Department of Transportation outlined a number of improvements they plan to make, which include $6 million in operation improvements, more plow drivers for busy times, and metering trouble spots on the passes. Read more about CDOT's winter plan at http://www.vaildaily.com/news/12870089-113/vail-transportation-department-state. Department of Transportation research showed that road closures on I-70 usually weren't due to mandatory closures, but accidents, mostly by vehicles that didn't have snow tires or four-wheel drive. Officials cited a particularly infamous incident on Feb. 9, when a combination of 10 inches of snow and a number of pile-ups made drive times from Vail to Denver upwards of eight hours. PENALTIES FOR BALD TIRES? Of the 22 passenger vehicles that received assistance from the Department of Transportation during the Feb. 9 snowstorm, 19 had "inadequate tires," said Ryan Rice, the Department of Transportation's director of transportation system management and operations. Some say the problem is out-of-town drivers who have little experience driving in snow and may not be familiar with what "proper equipment" and "adequate tires" on the roads mean. More extreme solutions include setting up tire checkpoints before the passes as is done in California on Donner Pass, or issuing hefty tickets for drivers in an accident due to bad tires. Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Don Hunt he's skeptical that such measures will work, and said he suspects a much more local group. "This isn't about a daily occurrence. It's on the weekends during peak times. It's season pass holders," he said. "I would ask the ski areas about thinking what their role is in solving this problem." Some are doing just that. Colorado Ski Country President Melanie Mills said the association would like to partner with the state Department of Transportation to educate drivers on what they need to drive safely in the winter. "I've lived in Denver for 25 years and am president of Colorado Ski Country, and I can't tell you what adequate tread is," she said. "Can we partner a way to put out videos to educate people?" Another solution is to limit the number of commercial trucks on the road. The number of semi-trucks going through the mountain corridor in the winter was already down 10 percent last year, but some are suggesting that the Colorado State Patrol also crack down on truck drivers driving without chains. CHANGING THE CULTURE One of the most puzzling challenges, said Hunt, is changing the Colorado driving culture. Transportation officials have been trying to introduce the "auto sock" for several years, without much success. The traction device is an easy-to-install cover for your tires that gives them extra grip in snowy conditions. They retail for $105 for a set. On Feb. 9, those 19 vehicles with inadequate tires were given the traction devices by the Department of Transportation to help get them over the pass, then offered the opportunity to keep the socks for $60. All but one declined to buy the product. The Department of Transportation has also tried to work with airport rental car companies to equip rentals with the traction devices for little-to-no cost for the company and customers, but got little interest. "When I moved here in 1982, we bought a four-wheel drive car because we didn't want to get caught in an accident," said Hunt. "I think we've lost that sense here, and I don't know how to change that culture." Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

Fall DUI enforcement effort underway throughout state

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation is turning up the heat on drunk drivers with the statewide Fall Festivals DUI enforcement period. Working with the Colorado State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies, the department of transportation's The Heat Is On campaign will continue until Oct. 26. The enforcement effort arrives on the heels of the Labor Day enforcement period, during which 74 law enforcement agencies arrested 939 people between Aug. 21 and Sept. 8, according to preliminary data. Most arrests came from the Colorado State Patrol (214), Denver (154), Aurora (113) and Colorado Springs (93). The 2014 Labor Day DUI enforcement resulted in 1,102 statewide arrests from 95 participating law enforcement agencies. One is one too many "Even one alcohol- or drug-impaired driver is one too many and serves as a reminder of the importance of education and enforcement," said Darrell Lingk, Director of the transportation department's Office of Transportation Safety. "The Heat Is On campaign helps keep Coloradans safe from those that act irresponsibly and put others at risk." "With the arrival of fall, we tend to see an increase in impaired driving due to alcohol-related events like Oktoberfest and football season, among other factors," said Col. Scott Hernandez, Chief of the Colorado State Patrol. "We realize people want to have a good time, and that is fine, but drinkers must be responsible and never get behind the wheel impaired." For more information, go to http://www.HeatIs OnColorado.com.

Transportation department working to reopen interstate

State transportation officials said Monday it could take up to two weeks to repair the 22-foot-wide sinkhole opened in Interstate 70 by a swollen Bighorn Creek in East Vail. Crews in front-end loaders and graders on Monday diverted water away from the sinkhole on part of the westbound lane of I-70 so they could examine damaged underground culvert about 20 feet below. A 24-mile stretch of the highway remained closed between Vail and Copper Mountain. “We don’t know at this point how long it will take to fix the road,” said Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stacy Stegman. “It could be a few days or up to two weeks, depending on what we find when we reach the culvert.” Repairs to the road, Stegman said, could also extend to the eastbound lanes, which she feared could collapse, too, under the water pressure. The sinkhole, Stegman said, was likely caused by a breach in the culvert, built to channel water from Bighorn Creek underneath the highway. The culvert failed, however, with the sheer volume of run-off and sediment, she added. The water eroded dirt that supported the interstate, creating the sinkhole, then rushed into East Vail, causing the evacuation of 220 homes. No one was injured when the road sank Sunday, officials said. CDOT officials on Saturday night noticed a dip on where the sinkhole later happened and coned it off. “If the damage isn’t major, we might be able to open the highway later in the week through the eastbound lanes,” Stegman said. Motorists are now taking a 54-mile detour to Leadville and truckers not yet in the mountains were advised to detour on I-80 through Wyoming to the north or I-40 through New Mexico to the south, adding hundreds of miles to their trips. Elsewhere in Vail, it was business as usual, with shops and restaurants preparing for the summer season kick-off, which begins this week with the TEVA Mountain Games. “We’re sending out the message that we are open,” Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz said Monday. “The sinkhole is 4 miles from the center of town and it doesn’t affect it. It will take a little longer to get here, but it’s still worth it.” Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily letters: No law against dropping school busing

No law ensuring school busing Although I am confident our school district will continue to provide transportation for our PreK-12th grade students, there is something that needs clarification regarding school bus routes and student transportation. I heard this repeated incorrectly during the school campaign for permanent higher property taxes and now I am reading it again. Public school buses are a school district taxpayer gift to students age 7 to 17 years (the compulsory education age in our state), and not a given mandated by any federal or state law. Pursuant to 22-32-113, C.R.S., the board of education of a school district is authorized but is not required to furnish student transportation home to school, school to school, school to home, and on school sponsored activities. See http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdenutritran/download/pdf/OperationalRules041309.pdf So to read this in the newspaper: “Moving the students to another school and town would only serve to reinstate the costs of transportation. With the school being so central within the town of Avon, the necessity of school-funded transportation has been eliminated” needs correction before more erroneously speak out on this topic. The option of providing no school buses at all is a perfectly legal option. Again, I don’t anticipate that happening here, but it could legally. And elsewhere in Colorado, it has. Reading through the state of Colorado School Transportation Facts 2010 — http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdenutritran/download/word/trans/ColoSchoolTransFacts2010.doc — you will find that four Colorado school districts currently do not provide any bus routes for their students. Of those four school districts, two chose to provide special needs busing only, and two districts have chosen to pay parents to transport their child to and from school. So although I would be shocked if the Eagle County School District stopped providing any public school busing, they can per both federal and state law if they chose to do so. Marty Lich Gypsum

Briefs: Creek cleanup meeting Friday

EDWARDS ” The Black Gore Creek Steering Committee will meet Friday from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Eagle County Health Service District Building in Edwards to receive public comments on a proposed plan for keep sand and other sediment of Black Gore Creek on Vail Pass. Black Gore Creek is considered an “impaired” stream because of the sand that has spilled into it. The steering committee includes local, state and federal agencies. A summary of public comments will be submitted to the state Water Quality Control Division. The latest report on pollution in Black Gore Creek can be read at the Eagle County Building, Vail Town Hall and the Vail library. For more information or to RSVP to the meeting, contact Maria Pastore at 827-5406 or Pastore@EagleRiverWatershedCouncil.org. BEAVER CREEK ” Beaver Creek will host its final telemark workshop of the season Saturday at the resort. The workshop provides lessons for telemarkers of all abilities, from beginners with no experience to experts. Participants should meet at the Beaver Creek Nordic Center, near the base of the Strawberry Park lift, at 9 a.m. Lessons last until around 3 p.m. The cost is $75 for the lesson only or $135 for the lesson and a lift ticket. Discounted rentals are available. SUMMIT COUNTY ” If the number of cars passing through the Eisenhower Tunnel is any indication of how busy the High Country was last weekend, it could have been a record-setting few days for visitors. Between 12:01 a.m. on Friday and midnight on Sunday, 139,668 vehicles traveled through the Eisenhower/Johnson memorial tunnels, marking the second highest three-day weekend count in the tunnel’s 34-year history, according to numbers released this week by the Colorado Department of Transportation. The highest three-day count of 140,367 occurred between Aug. 3 and 5, 2001. The busiest three-day weekends at the tunnel historically occur in either March or August ” the top 10 list consists of sets of days that all fall in those two months. The top 10 highest winter weekend counts all fall in March, except for one weekend last month and another in December 2002. On March 3, 47,661 vehicles passed through the Eisenhower Tunnel, which was the ninth highest count in a 24-hour period. The single-day record was set on Aug. 5, 2001 with 50,113 vehicles. ” Nicole Formosa

Colorado Department of Transportation road work report

VAIL, Colorado “-I 70 Eastbound/Westbound Business Between F Road (Patterson) and 32 Road in Grand Junction (Milemarker 25) (through November 2008) 7:00am-5:00pm MO-FR Traffic slowing and minor delays for intersection improvements at Peachtree Shopping Center. At least two accesses to the shopping center will be kept open during construction. I 70 Eastbound/Westbound Between Palisade and Grand Mesa Exit (CO 65) (Milemarker 43-50) (through October 2008) 6:00am-5:00pm MO and FR, 6:00am-7:00pm TU, 6:00am-6:00pm WE-TH Single lane closures for striping operations. A 12 ft. width restriction is in effect during work hours. Delays are possible. I 70 Eastbound/Westbound Through the No Name Tunnels in Glenwood Canyon (Milemarker 117-119) (through October 2008) 24 Hours Only one lane open in each direction for tunnel rehabilitation. Delays are possible. 14 ft. width restriction, height restriction of 16 ft. 6 in., speed limit reduced to 35 mph through the work zone. I 70 Eastbound/Westbound Through Glenwood Canyon (Milemarker 118-131) (through October 2008) 6:00am-8:00pm SU-SA Single lane closures for center-line longitudinal joint sealing. Up to 15 minute delays expected depending upon traffic volumes. I 70 Eastbound/Westbound at the Minturn Exit (Milemarker 171) (through October 2008) 5:00am-3:30pm MO-FR Right lane closure for shoulder work. Possible weekend work. Delays possible. I 70 Eastbound/Westbound Between Vail Pass and East Vail (Milemarker 180-190) (through November 2008) 8:00am-4:00pm MO-FR Right lane closure for pull box installation and asphalt patching. Delays are possible. 24 Hours MO-SA Right lane closures for bridge expansion joint work and paving. Delays expected. 12 ft. width restriction. I 70 Eastbound/Westbound Eisenhower Tunnel to Silverthorne Interchange (Milemarker 206-213) (through October 2008) 7:00am-6:00pm MO-TH Single lane closures for guardrail work, striping, and shoulder and curb repairs. Delays possible. I 70 Eastbound/Westbound through the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels (Milemarker 213-216) (through November 2008) 6:00pm-6:00am SU-SA Single lane closures in both directions for routine maintenance. Delays are possible. 8:00pm-6:00am MO-TH, 10:00pm-6:00am SU and FR Single lane closure on eastbound for panel installation and guardrail removal. Delays possible. 24 hour lane closure beginning 7:00am TU through 7:00am WE.

Transportation department launches Contact Us feature

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation has launched the last phase of an effort to improve and streamline customer service to the general public: an online Contact Us feature. The first change in the department's new customer service experience upgrades was the launch of revamped websites. The department's main site, http://www.codot.gov and http://www.cotrip.org, its traveler information site, enable customers find information more easily. The second feature included creating new, fully-trained customer service teams in each of the department's five transportation regions and at its headquarters. These representatives are existing department employees who now, as part of their regular duties, are using a new online customer service ticket tracking tool to document, respond to and report trends in customer service questions. The department's highway project contractors will also use this tool to input and respond to project comments and inquiries. The new button The last phase in the agency's new customer service program is the launch of a new Contact Us button on each of the websites. The Contact Us button will direct customers to more easily obtain a response to their inquiry by directing them to self-help areas and providing them with an interactive map so they can write to or call the region in which their issue lies. The button will also allow people to directly report issues they see on the road and even upload pictures so the department can respond more quickly. An issue with a pothole in Alamosa, for example, would be routed directly to Region 5, in southwest Colorado, going directly to the team with the knowledge and the means to address the situation. "We're moving into a more efficient and effective customer service system," Amy Ford, the Colorado Department of Transportation communications director, said. "With our dedicated phone lines for each area of the state, interactive comment features on our web site and designated customer service representatives in every region, our goal is to provide a faster and easier experience for our customers. We want to provide them with a one-stop shop and a single-call or single-email resolution as often as possible." The new customer service phone lines are: • Department headquarters in Denver: 303-757-9011. • Region 1 (Denver Metro/I-70 West to Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels): 303-759-2361. • Region 2 (Southeast): 719-562-5568. • Region 3 (Northwest): 970-243-2368. • Region 4 (Northeast): 970-350-2368. • Region 5 (Southwest/South-Central): 970-385-1423.

Rankin asks state about Cottonwood upgrade

Two area elected officials would like to see the state take a look at its potential role in upgrading Cottonwood Pass between Garfield and Eagle counties to serve as a year-round alternative to Interstate 70 during Glenwood Canyon closures. "I have asked some of the transportation folks here at the capitol to at least look into it," said state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who represents Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties in the Colorado House of Representatives. Rankin said he received several calls from constituents inquiring about Cottonwood Pass during a near week-long closure of I-70 in the canyon following a massive rockslide on Feb. 15. Traffic delays in the canyon continued this week while Colorado Department of Transportation crews remained busy with cleanup and repair efforts. Travel remains limited to two lanes of head-to-head traffic along the eastbound side of the interstate, using pace cars to control speeds through a six-mile stretch. "It sure seems that, in this situation, had that road been passable at least for passenger cars, it would have been a big help," Rankin said of Cottonwood Pass. "It probably would be a really difficult situation for big trucks, but I don't think it would take that much improvement to be an alternative for passenger cars," he said. The road over Cottonwood Pass climbs up Cattle Creek (Garfield County Road 113) from Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs for about 10 miles before crossing into Eagle County and continuing on CR 10A for another 15 miles to Gypsum. Rankin lives on Missouri Heights at the western end of the route, and said he often uses it during his summertime commutes to and from Denver. However, the pass is closed during the winter and not available as an option for several months out of the year. Garfield County maintains the road almost to the county line, even during the winter. But it would need a chip-seal surface for about another 2.5 miles in order to be usable during the winter, county Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said. "I would say it almost has national significance in terms of security to be able to get around Glenwood Canyon (during closures)," Jankovsky said. "Think about the loss of revenues for businesses just during those 10 days." Eagle County remains the biggest player, but has not looked into what it would take to upgrade the road since the last multi-day closure of Glenwood Canyon due to a rockslide in March 2010. At that time, the county determined it would cost over $40 million just to improve the Eagle County portion of the road for year-round passenger car use, not including wintertime snow plowing costs. "You are probably talking tens of millions of dollars just to get it to county road standards," Jankovsky, who said he has been in touch with Eagle County officials about opening the conversation, said. "It would take either state or federal funding to do that," he said. Eagle County Commission Chairwoman Jill Ryan said her board has not yet addressed the issue since the most recent I-70 closure, but that such a discussion is likely to occur soon.

State vows to help unstall ‘renaissance’

VAIL ” The state Department of Transportation’s top regional official says he really doesn’t want to slow does any of the big projects in Vail. “We understand how important it is to the valley, and we want to try to get you there as quickly as we can,” said Weldon Allen, Region 3 director for the state agency. One project, Solaris, remains stalled because it’s seeking a permit from the Department of Transportation. At least one other project, the Four Seasons, has been delayed because of the permits. Other Vail project will likely need the permits, too. The developers count on using the department’s land ” underground, on the surface and in its airspace ” to build their projects. Developers have said they are frustrated with getting the permits, saying the process is taking too long. But Allen said the department is “very close” to being ready to issue one type of permit. The transportation department and the Federal Highway Administration hold joint jurisdiction over the south frontage road, which borders the projects. Allen said the state and federal agencies are still trying to establish criteria for issuing these permits. In fact, Vail’s situation is unique in the state of Colorado, Allen said. Because it’s joint jurisdiction between the state and the federal governments, the process is more difficult, Allen said. Proposals must be shuttled between the state and the federal agency, slowing the process further. “Them having oversight, they will take a good, strong look at what’s going on in the interstate right-of-way to preserve the best interests of all the folks who use it,” he said. As the old Highway 6 has turned into the interstate, the frontage roads have remained in the hands of the state and U.S., even though they are essentially town streets. The state department has offered to give the frontage roads back to Vail. “That’s Vail’s choice,” Allen said. “We’ve laid the platter out there.” But that would mean extra costs for Vail, including maintenance, paving and snow-plowing. Vail already faces a $25.8 million shortfall over the next five years in its capital budget. Allen said his department has devoted a lot of resources toward issuing the permits. At the same time, the state transportation department isn’t in the development business, Allen said. “We’ll support the town of Vail all we can,” Allen said. “But we’re not the Colorado department of hotel development. We’re the Colorado Department of Transportation.” More projects may need these permits from the state transportation department and the federal highway agency, including the $1 billion EverVail and the $600 million Lionshead parking structure redevelopment. Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

Can winter woes ease on Interstate 70?

VAIL — A monster snowstorm that hit the Rockies at the end of January had effects far beyond the eight- and 10-hour trips to Denver reported by many motorists. The storm also prompted the Colorado Department of Transportation to try some new things to manage both snowfall and traffic. The storm on the last weekend of January followed several other storms that piled feet of fresh powder on the slopes. That snow drew Front Range skiers by the thousands. When the big storm hit, and stayed, Jan. 26, plow crews working Interstate 70 couldn't keep up, and many drivers were caught unprepared, lacking adequate tires or chains for their cars. Many of those cars ended up stopped on the steep climbs between Vail and the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel and couldn't get started. The combination created massive traffic backups. That storm, in turn, prompted complaints from both motorists and ski towns about the state's ability to keep the highways open reliably. In response, state transportation officials started work on a plan for the coming winter and beyond. THE PLAN FOR THIS WINTER Part of the longer-term work was presented Tuesday to the Vail Town Council. Michelle Hansen, an engineer for Stolfus Associates, a consulting firm of the transportation department, briefed council members about a plan to expand the chain-up station for big trucks on eastbound I-70 near the Vail golf course. Hansen said the plan — with an estimated cost of $4.5 million — would add another 1,500 feet to the existing lane, with the extension stretching west of the current space. That extension will create room for about another 15 large trucks bringing the capacity to 39 vehicles. That project will require a bit of road widening, Hansen said. It will also require construction of several hundred feet of retaining wall between the interstate and the frontage road. CAN WE DETER TRUCKS? Council members were generally supportive of the plan. But council member Greg Moffet asked Hansen if the state could take other action to keep trucks away from the base of Vail Pass on snowy days. Hansen said that's more difficult than it sounds. A parking area at Dotsero is only used when the highway is closed, she said. And asking truckers to chain up earlier creates other problems, she added. While the expanded chain-up station won't be available until the winter of 2015-16, state transportation officials have new strategies and equipment on the way for the coming winter. LIMITING VEHICLES Tracy Trulove, a Glenwood Springs-based spokeswoman for the transportation department, said the state will again try limiting the number of vehicles allowed to enter the interstate in Summit County, releasing them in intervals. That could tie up traffic in Frisco and Silverthorne, but may help people from stalling out on the uphill climb to the tunnels. Beyond metering, Trulove said state officials are getting more, newer plow equipment. On days when massive storms hit, the department will pull plow drivers from nearby areas. "It may be snowing hard in Summit County, but not in Glenwood," Trulove said. "We can pull those guys to help." NEW I-70 INCIDENT COMMANDER Then there's the matter of coordination. Trulove said the transportation department recently has hired a full-time incident commander for the I-70 corridor. It will be that person's job to put plow drivers, cops and others where they can do the most good to keep traffic moving. Beyond that, the department is working on ways to make "snow socks," a temporary traction device for cars, more available to drivers who might not have adequate tires for stop-and-go driving on 7 percent uphill grades. But, she said, it will be difficult, at best, to station police or transportation department employees at eastbound on-ramps to check cars for adequate tires. That said, Trulove said the I-70 mountain corridor is a "hot topic all the time" for state transportation planners. "We're still trying to come up with ways to manage traffic," she added. After the Tuesday presentation, council member Dale Bugby said he was pleased with what he saw. "This is the first I've seen of (the transportation department) trying to make things better for Vail Pass," Bugby said. "It's a dangerous situation now." Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.