Vail area, mountain resorts expect heavy holiday weekend traffic
Plan ahead or be ready to sit in traffic
Gas prices are at a 10-year high, but we can expect plenty of people on the roads and in the air this holiday weekend.
Skyler McKinley, the public affairs director of AAA Colorado, said passenger counts are up at Denver International Airport, and traffic counts are up on the state’s major highways.
Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid noted in an email he’s expecting a “busy” Thanksgiving week. The full winter flight schedule begins Dec. 16.
Statewide, vehicle traffic is roughly 3.7% below the numbers seen in 2019, McKinley said.
That’s something of a surprise given that the state’s average gas price for regular is just below $3.50 per gallon. That’s the highest average price since 2011.
It doesn’t matter much in those few “this costs how much now?” moments at the pump, but McKinley noted that when you average out the low gas prices of 2020 — due to low demand— with the demand-driven higher prices this year, the resulting number isn’t all that bad.
Better yet, “we’re starting to see some softening in prices,” McKinley said. The price of crude oil has dipped, and McKinley said he expects to see further price dips between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Even with gas prices, we can expect a lot of traffic across the High Country over the holiday weekend.
Busy winter expected
Margaret Bowes is the director of the nonprofit I-70 Coalition, a consortium of local governments and business interests along the the Interstate 70 corridor between Morrison and Eagle.
“We’re expecting a busy winter in general,” Bowes said, citing season pass sales and advance lodging reservations leading into the Christmas holidays.
While Thanksgiving day is generally a good time to travel, Bowes said that travel over much of the holiday weekend will require planning to navigate heavy traffic and possible delays.
During peak times, Bowes encouraged travelers to head to the coalition’s GoI70.com website. The site has travel forecasts, real-time information and a page dedicated to deals for those who want to delay their travel for a few hours. The Colorado Department of Transportation also recently upgraded the CoTrip.org website with real-time information.
Bowes also recommended using transit. A phone interview with her took place just after she had gotten off the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bustang between Summit County and Denver.
The trip was “great,” Bowes said, adding that she worked on the trip and didn’t pay any attention to traffic on the highway.
With W-Fi, comfortable seats, charging stations and restrooms, Bowes noted that there were only three empty seats on a trip the day before Thanksgiving.
Bowes noted that Bustang’s westbound routes are the most popular.
“That demonstrates transit works on I-70,” she said.
The long view
While holiday traffic will likely be heavy for the forseeable future, Bowes said there’s some relief coming in the long term. Work on the west side of Vail Pass is expected to create a better trip on that stretch of road.
Another pinch point, the west side of Floyd Hill between Evergreen and Idaho Springs, is set to see its own multiyear improvement project. Environmental studies are being completed, and Bowes said the first work could begin in 2022.
West of the Vail Valley, Glenwood Canyon has become another pinch point in the wake of the summer mudslides that closed the highway for more than two weeks.
Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Elise Thatcher said there won’t be any construction in the canyon during the holiday weekend. Both westbound lanes will be open, but eastbound traffic will narrow to one lane just to the west of the Grizzly Creek interchange.
Canyon work will start again on Tuesday. Drivers both east- and westbound can expect delays through at least Dec. 2, Thatcher said. Crews will work on the roadway while removing material from the riverbed next to the highway.
Traffic will be stopped altogether for 20 to 30 minutes when a helicopter is being used in the project. Real-time updates will be posted on the CoTrip.org website.