Increased night work ahead for highways
EAGLE COUNTY — You expect traffic troubles on Interstate 70 during a massive snowstorm on a Sunday afternoon. You expect tie-ups on weekends. But a clear, dry, summer Thursday is different.
Still, westbound traffic ground to a halt for several hours June 18 on westbound I-70 between Idaho Springs and Glenwood Springs. Several construction projects, including bridge work near the westbound exit for Loveland Pass, ground traffic to a halt for hours, with some motorists reporting a six-hour drive between Denver and Glenwood Springs, a trip that takes three hours or so when traffic is flowing smoothly.
Summer is road-construction season in the mountains — except on weekends. There’s a lot of work to do, and relatively little time to get it finished. That means there are often several active projects along the I-70 mountain corridor in any given summer. This year, as in the past couple of seasons, the heaviest of that work is in Clear Creek County, from the top of the Eisenhower Johnson Tunnels to the top of Floyd Hill east of Colorado Springs. Projects include finishing work on the twin tunnels just east of Idaho Springs, as well as a project that will put a tolled lane on the interstate’s eastbound shoulder.
Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford said the June 18 tie-ups were in large part the result of closing both lanes of the interstate for striping and re-paving near Loveland Pass.
“That was a wake-up call,” Ford said, adding that because of even weekday traffic volume, some of the current projects will be switched from day to night work. In addition, day work will be suspended if traffic starts to back up too much.
Ford said state officials are now working with several contractors working on those projects to provide better coordination. Patrick Chavez, who was hired last year to coordinate traffic flow during winter months, is now involved in trying to keep motorists moving.
Those project managers will report to the department of transportation’s regional managers and engineers. The idea is to be able to act more quickly if construction work starts to tie up traffic.
Ford said the June 18 tie-ups snowballed quickly.
“We first reported that traffic delays would be an hour,” Ford said. “About 40 minutes later the delay was two hours, and then traffic wasn’t moving at all.”
While westbound traffic was the problem last week, a project on Vail Pass caused some local delays Monday.
Mark Christie works at the Vail Information Center at the Vail Village Transportation Center. He said what should have been a quick trip between the main Vail and East Vail interchanges turned into a long slog.
“I got near the (Vail) golf course and traffic just stopped,” Christie said. “I had ice cream in the car, and it was soup by the time I got home.”
But the work in Clear Creek County is the most troublesome.
Chris Treese, the external affairs manager of the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, makes the trip to Denver two or three times per month in the summer. He said the work in Clear Creek County has been unpredictable, making it difficult to plan.
Bobby Bank, who manages the information centers in Vail, said while the transportation department’s website has plenty of information, that information can sometimes be coming in slow, with few updates.
“There’s no ongoing explanation,” Bank said. “Nothing ever says, ‘It’ll take this long to move that truck’ or ‘It’ll take this long to clean up a diesel spill.’”
Bank said road information seems to be either on or off, with little to no explanation in between.
Ultimately, though, Bank said he’s “kind of immune” to routine construction delays.
“I drove to Glenwood today, and there were (construction delays) the whole way, but it was fine,” Bank said.
Brett Milam of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent contributed to this story.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.