How long will the drive to Denver take?
VAIL – Coming down Vail Pass toward Copper Mountain, drivers will be see a familiar sign broadcasting a new message “45 miles to Idaho Springs.”That’s if you’re lucky, but the signs will be there when your luck has run out too: “Two hours to Idaho Springs.”Like the news or not, the Colorado Department of Transportation is readying existing signs from Copper Mountain to Golden to broadcast estimated travel times along the Interstate 70. “There’s a national push for travel information, and there’s many different ways to get it. This is just one tool in this whole toolbox of information,” said Stacey Stegman, spokeswoman for the department of transportation, who added the department of transportation also uses transportation hotlines, camera and ramp metering to help the flow of traffic. “We’re basically using a lot of the tools we already have and taking the next step.”No luck during stand stillsBut when travelers are most hungry for time estimates – like when there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic that isn’t going anywhere – they won’t be able to get them, Stegman said.
“When there’s an incident, like an accident that has traffic stopped, we can’t get data at that time,” she said. “Cars need to be moving for us to collect the data.”Despite this, commuters like Jim Felton see the time estimates as a positive development.”At a very basic level, people always feel better when they know what lies ahead,” said Felton, who travels from Frisco to Denver for work three or four times every week. “It’s psychological comfort.”Of course, there’s still the issue of how accurate the information is – a problem made worse because the signs are 15 miles apart from each other. “If you tell your wife you’ll be a half an hour late, and it turns out to be more, than you’ve got issues of timeliness and liability,” Felton said. “But still, it’s always good to have more information.”Stegman said even if the information isn’t completely precise, it’ll help people make travel arrangements, whether it’s taking time off the road to have dinner and wait it out or to take an alternate route. “Like any of us, if you know what to expect, you can accept it better,” she said. “It’s one of the downsides that they aren’t closer together. If the sign says 30 minutes and something happens between signs and it ends up taking two hours, people could get frustrated. But at this point, we don’t have the funding to install more.”
Why I-70?Although there are other places in the state that suffer from far worse traffic than the I-70 corridor, Stegman said the department of transportation wanted to install the technology along the interstate because of the critical role it plays in bringing tourists and goods into the state. “It’s larger than just Colorado,” Stegman said. “It’s commerce and freight too. It’s a lifeline for our state.”The technology to estimate travel times isn’t new, but it’s been kept mostly in urban areas until now. “This is unique in that it’s a very long corridor,” Stegman said. “That’s why we’re looking at the tests and want to get feedback to make sure the data is reliable and accurate.”The signs, which rely on fiber optic cables, aren’t able to reach to Vail yet, but CDOT hopes to extend it one day, along with more frequent signs. Testing will go on this week, and if found to be accurate, the system will go live. CDOT is still trying to decide if it’ll operate the system every day or just during the weekends and peak traffic days.
How bad can it get?Contrary to common perception, traffic along the Interstate 70 corridor – between Golden and Copper Mountain – is worse in the summer than in the winter. A trip from the Eisenhower Tunnel to Golden should take about an hour, but can take four to eight hours during peak times, like during a blizzard or the Forth of July weekend, when as many as 50,000 vehicles stream through the tunnel’s two eastbound lanes (instead of the average 30,000). Record-breaking days are usually in July and August.- information courtesy of the Colorado Department of TransportationStaff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado
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