Vail Valley businesses urged to plan for highway delays
VAIL, Colorado – The drive from the Vail Valley to Denver will take longer for much of this year, and state officials are already working on one main message: The mountains will be open.
The delays will come in Clear Creek County, where the Colorado Department of Transportation will in April start work to expand eastbound Interstate 70 from two to three lanes from the east end of Idaho Springs to the base of Floyd Hill, where eastbound traffic expands to three lanes the rest of the way into the Denver metro area.
That project will include widening the eastbound lanes of the Twin Tunnels just east of Idaho Springs. That’s going to require a detour around the tunnel, and traffic delays for traffic moving both directions while crews expand the tunnel with explosives.
Margaret Bowes, the program manager for the I-70 Coalition, a group made up of local governments along the highway’s mountain corridor, Tuesday talked about the project with the Vail Economic Advisory Council, and outlined a few ways businesses are preparing, and can prepare, for the traffic delays to come.
The biggest suggestion Bowes had was to keep a close eye on the blasting schedule. Keeping an eye on the schedule is going to be important, Bowes said, because it’s going to change virtually every day. The schedule for the next day will be posted the night before. Both east- and westbound traffic will be delayed for 20 to 30 minutes when blasting takes place – Bowes said the westbound tunnel will be closed as a safety precaution, then checked after every explosion. There won’t be any blasting during “high traffic” periods – mostly on weekends. Still, the eastbound detour around the tunnel will slow traffic to just 35 mph through the construction zone.
The anticipated traffic delays are significant enough that Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer told the group that local transportation companies will pick up those bound for Denver International Airport several hours sooner than usual.
While everyone involved acknowledges that the project is going to be difficult to deal with, Bowes told the Vail group about how the Colorado Department of Transportation is trying to minimize traffic tie-ups.
Putting information on a phone hotline and a pair of websites is one way, Bowes said. So is distributing information about blasting and other delay-causing construction to various businesses.
Beyond that, state transportation officials are looking to the public, and mountain-area businesses, to help put fewer cars on the road.
An informational handout encourages people to “Keep coming to the mountains for recreation, shopping and dining – you will be able to get to and from your destination during construction.”
On the other hand, people are being encouraged to leave later on Sundays. The usual winter message is “leave after 6 p.m., home by 8 p.m.” To encourage people to stay a bit later, businesses are encouraged to provide deals, activities or later checkout times to guests.
The I-70 Coalition is providing free advertising on its website and smartphone app to businesses that provide those weekend deals.
One council member said extending stays for guests could be tough for lodges.
“If you have a late checkout, you can’t sell the room that night because it can’t be cleaned,” Kim Newbury said.
Despite the inevitable delays, Bowes said there’s good news in the project.
“We’re going to have short-term pain and long-term gain,” she said.