Technology could transform transportation to the Vail Valley, and fairly soon |

Technology could transform transportation to the Vail Valley, and fairly soon

"Smart Road" receivers are already in place at these spots along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor. The devices can receive messages from vehicles equipped with car-to-car technology and rely information to snowplows.

What’s coming?

• Mass market for fully autonomous cars: 50-ish years.

• Connecting cars to real-time information: It’s starting now.

• Smart pavement: It’s starting now.

• Hyperloop: Testing now.

Source: Peter Kozinski, Colorado Department of Transportation

VAIL — The Colorado Department of Transportation doesn’t have much money to pay for big ideas. But big ideas are still bubbling at the state agency.

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday, Sept. 4, heard a presentation from Peter Kozinski, a one-man department for the department’s RoadX Program. That program is designed to envision how technology can improve the state’s transportation system.

Some of those ideas are far in the future: Kozinski said the mass market for fully automated cars is probably 50 years in the future.

But other ideas are starting work now.

Along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor, the department is now working with Panasonic on a “smart road” system.

Support Local Journalism

That system uses existing car-to-car communication systems, linking those systems to roadside units that can tap into that communication. State snowplows will be able to use information from those car-based systems.

Off the I-70 corridor, CDOT is now installing a section of “smart” pavement in the Denver area. The next spot is a stretch of U.S. Highway 285 on Red Hill Pass, northeast of Fairplay. Using that technology, the road can notify officials about vehicle speeds and, most important, if a vehicle slides off that portion of the highway. That can be a literal life-saver if a vehicle slides off the road in a snowstorm or at night.

Charge as you drive

Another smart-pavement idea will allow electric vehicles to charge as they drive.

“If a vehicle can charge from the roadway, you can run an electric vehicle forever,” Kozinski said.

Powered lanes could turn CDOT into an energy provider, Kozinski said. That opens a number of regulatory and other questions, he added. On the other hand, officials are working to install inductive chargers on some roads leading to Denver International Airport. That could help create a fleet of electric-powered shuttles to and from the facility.

In the mountains, electric motors could be a boon to the trucking industry. Electric motors make peak power immediately and aren’t as affected by thin air and steep grades to the extent conventional engines are.

In addition to right-now technology, there are a couple of budding innovations that could fundamentally transform transportation in the state.

Going even faster

Hyperloop has identified Colorado as one of 10 potential test areas for technology that uses low-pressure tubes and electricity to send capsules full of cargo or people at speeds up to 700 mph.

The first test leg would run about 50 miles between Denver and Greeley. Kozinski noted that the Greeley route was chosen because there’s an abundance of flat, open land in that area.

If it’s built, the technology could run the Denver to Greeley route in as little as 6 minutes.

A trip to Vail from Denver could take 9 minutes. Kozinski said there have been discussions about not using the I-70 corridor, using the Highway 285 route instead. That would add a few minutes to the trip, he said.

In addition to Hyperloop, a shorter-distance technology called Arrivo envisions using shuttles at speeds of up to 200 mph. Kozinski said estimates for that system would make the cost to users about equivalent to tolls charged on the C-470 tollway on the east side of the Denver metropolitan area.

Paying for those systems will be daunting, but Kozinski said the state would partner with the private sector on projects. Once work begins and the technology proves itself, private investment could come quickly.

And, he added, that new technology is coming — and coming quickly.

“You need to think about how this is going to impact you,” Kozinski told council members. “How do you want to set yourselves up for this?”

Kozinski said a good first step would be a comprehensive inventory of the area’s transportation assets.

Mayor Dave Chapin asked how the new technology might work with a years-long dream of burying I-70 through Vail.

Kozinski said if Hyperloop technology comes to pass, there’s really no need.

While the idea of a quick trip to the Front Range is alluring, council member Greg Moffet said town and transportation officials need to have deeper conversations about budding technology.

“When it’s 30 minutes to downtown Denver, what does that do to us?” Moffet asked.

Those conversations need to happen fairly quickly.

“Both Hyperloop and Arrivo want to start building meaningful segments in the next three years,” Kozinski said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at and 970-748-2930.

Support Local Journalism