Patience is the key to driving east today
EAGLE COUNTY — If you’re headed home today, then you probably know what to expect: Lots and lots (and lots) of traffic. You also know there really aren’t any effective alternatives to Interstate 70. But the I-70 trip can be easier.
For the second season, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the I-70 Coalition, a regional group dedicated to easing congestion are running a program called “Change Your Peak Time.” The idea is to encourage motorists to spend a few more hours in the mountain resorts to allow traffic to ease.
Coalition program manager Margaret Bowes said the group uses historic data about traffic patterns to help motorists plan their trips. For those westbound from the Denver area, the Coalition encourages people to get on the highway before 6:30 a.m. Eastbounders are encouraged to wait until 7 p.m. or so to start their drive back.
Incentives to Linger Longer
To help the eastbounders linger longer, the Coalition’s website has numerous shopping and dining deals on its website. Those deals are free to businesses.
Bowes said there are more than 100 different deals in Summit and Eagle counties this season.
“We’re still figuring out what kind of deals are enticing, and sharing that information with businesses,” Bowes said. “Two-for-one appetizers are popular.”
While most resort lodges are pretty thoroughly booked the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, there may be some discounts available for those who want to stay Sunday evening and head home Monday morning. Other lodges offer late check-out on Sundays, so people can ski, shower and relax for a bit before heading home.
“There’s generally good availability on Sunday nights,” Bowes said.
Keeping Drivers Safe
Beyond reasons to stay, the state and the coalition are also working on several ways to keep drivers safer in both good and bad weather conditions.
Transportation officials have been working on better ways to ease traffic since the Feb. 9 “perfect storm” in which massive eastbound traffic met heavy Sunday snowfall. Transportation officials later determined that most cars that ended up stranded on the approach to the Eisenhower Johnson Tunnels had inadequate tires. State officials and local police departments have this season held several tire-check events to help motorists learn what kind of shape their tires are in. (Stick a quarter in your tire’s tread. If any part of George Washington’s head is covered, then you’re fine.)
For those who don’t have the best tires, the Coalition has struck a wholesale deal for a new-ish product called traction socks. Those cloth tire covers are reputedly almost as good as chains, but much easier to put on. The Coalition is making the socks available to lodges, other businesses and towns to sell to motorists. Towns and businesses can set their own prices, but most will price the socks below the retail price of $110.
While the transportation department is putting more plow crews, maintenance people and courtesy patrol trucks along the corridor, department spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said there are days when simple traffic volume can overwhelm the road. That usually happens on days when more than 20,000 vehicles pass through the tunnel in one direction.
“We’re asking people to be prepared,” Trulove said. Preparation, in this case, means checking the department’s website, CoTrip.org for both real-time updates and looks from traffic cameras. Trulove said the department’s Twitter feed also reports real-time information.
The social media information campaign seems to be working pretty well. The department of transportation’s Facebook page has more than 25,000 followers, and more than 60,000 people follow the department’s Twitter feed.
For now, good tires, patience and information are the best ways to avoid traffic delays, but some non-virtual relief is on the way. The state is now working on an eastbound toll lane on the shoulders of I-70. That lane should be open in late 2015.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.