Presidents Day travel guide: Snow may complicate heaviest traffic times on I-70 between Summit County and the Front Range, analysis shows
The best times to drive in the mountains on Interstate 70 and how incoming storm systems could present problems for travelers headed to and from ski resorts
Summit Daily News
Anyone driving westbound Friday toward ski areas via Interstate 70 from the Front Range should remember to take deep breaths while driving into the High Country for the holiday weekend.
Presidents Day often draws large crowds in Summit and Eagle counties as it consistently ranks within the top three busiest weekends of the winter season, behind New Year’s Eve and Martin Luther King weekends, according to historical data provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Travelers heading west can expect around 23% more traffic this Friday, according to a comparison of 2022 CDOT data pulled a week before and the week of Presidents Day. Data for this story was pulled from a traffic counter at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels.
If tourism trends hold steady, this year’s Presidents Day weekend may exceed last year’s totals since this past January saw a 10% increase in bookings year over year at mountain destinations, according to a report released by Destimetrics, a firm that tracks lodging performance at resort destinations.
According to the latest reports specific to Summit County, the area saw bookings remain nearly the same year over year when looking at the Christmas holiday season, so travelers can expect this year’s numbers to stay on par or above last year’s data.
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A multiday snow storm expected to last from Sunday through Friday, Feb. 24, will likely complicate travel plans, too, as vacationers make their way to and from the slopes from Denver International Airport.
What day should you drive?
For those traveling westbound, Friday typically sees the most traffic, followed by Saturday, Sunday and then Monday. In 2022, 31,816 cars were counted Friday, 25,420 were counted Saturday, 22,577 were counted Sunday and 19,342 were counted Monday, according to westbound data at the tunnel.
As for eastbound traffic, 2022 data shows that Sunday had the heaviest traffic followed by Monday, Saturday and Friday. In 2022, 26,433 people drove Sunday, 25,907 drove Monday, 22,537 drove Saturday and 20,941 drove Friday, according to eastbound data.
What time of day should you drive?
In general, the best time to travel on I-70 is before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m., but a review of traffic counts from last year’s holiday show that this window of high traffic lengthens significantly on Friday for westbound traffic.
Traffic counts more than doubled between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on the Friday before the holiday last year, rising from 929 cars per hour to more than 2,000. The rate of travel remained around or above 2,000 until 5 p.m. and didn’t drop below 1,000 until 9 p.m.
For comparison, westbound travel counts dropped below 1,000 vehicles per hour at 6 p.m. on the Friday before Christmas this year and never exceeded 2,000.
In 2022, westbound traffic on the Saturday of Presidents Day weekend never exceeded 2,000 vehicles per hour, but a similar trend was seen between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. when traffic surged from 559 vehicles per hour to 1,990. Traffic dipped below the 1,000-vehicle-per-hour mark around 6 p.m. Sunday showed similar trends, and Monday saw totals reduce to near normal levels for westbound travel.
As for eastbound travel, the best time to drive Monday would be before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m. since totals will likely remain above 1,000 vehicles per hour from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Sunday, travelers got a start to traveling one hour later, but totals remained above 1,000 vehicles per hour from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Saturday and Friday saw levels above 1,000 from about 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. with a spike above 2,000 around 2-4 p.m.
What about the weather?
According to OpenSnow.com, a series of storm systems are expected to hit Colorado Sunday and last through Friday, Feb. 24. Snow forecasts say anywhere from an inch or two could fall each day during that time frame. The storms in the system could strengthen or weaken before they hit Summit County, so totals may vary widely from initial reports.
“All of these storms are too far away for us to get into the details at the moment,” OpenSnow founder and meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote in his Wednesday report.
Also, snow totals often increase at higher elevations, like mountain passes. Vail Pass, Hoosier Pass and the tunnels at the Continental Divide on I-70 could see blowing snow, high winds and snow-covered pavement depending on the strength of the storms.
For the latest travel updates, interstate closures and road conditions, visit CoTrip.org