Will I-70 congestion efforts bear fruit? | VailDaily.com

Will I-70 congestion efforts bear fruit?

Win fabulous prizes!

The Colorado Department of Transportation this month is encouraging drivers to share their stories about how they’ve changed their trip planning to avoid weekend congestion. There are prizes for the best entries.

Those prizes include:

• Two $300 gift certificates from Coloradoland toward a set of new Goodyear tires.

• Four round-trip tickets on Colorado Mountain Express from Denver to Vail or Summit County.

• Lodging vouchers for free overnight stays.

• Restaurant vouchers for free meals for those delaying their drive home.

To learn more, go to winter.codot.gov.

EAGLE COUNTY — Every winter is different, but a host of ideas to help ease weekend congestion on Interstate 70 seems to be having some positive effects.

The Colorado Department of Transportation started work in February of 2014 on new strategies to keep weekend highway traffic moving in the wake of a Feb. 9 perfect storm. That weekend, thousands of Front Range residents headed to the high country to take advantage of new, fresh, abundant snow. Virtually all of those people decided to head home at about the same time that Sunday, just as another very large snow storm rolled through the state.

The result was dozens of accidents and a drive from Vail to Denver that took some motorists as long as 10 hours.

Swift Response

Response from local towns was swift — something had to be done about travel on the state’s main east-west Interstate, or people would stop coming to their favorite mountain destinations.

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Department of Transportation Director of Communications Amy Ford said state officials started planning for the current winter “within a couple of weeks” of that 2014 storm.

The results of those meetings included putting more snowplows and drivers on the road, monitoring traffic and, if needed, limiting access to I-70 from Summit County on-ramps. The system can also release traffic in waves, or in groups that can follow groups of snowplows up the stretch to the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels.

The state also hired an incident commander who, in theory, can better coordinate cops, courtesy patrols and snowplows.

Ford said that while the winter season isn’t finished yet, there have been some encouraging results in a few areas. Yes, there’s been less snow this year, and fewer monster storms. But, Ford said, weather-related crashes are down 30 percent compared to last winter. Fatal and injury accidents have also been reduced. There have also been reductions in the number of days when it takes more than 75 minutes to get from Frisco to the C-470 exit on the west end of the Denver metro area. Ford said on a clear weekday, that trip takes just about an hour.

It’s easy to measure accidents, lane closures and trip times. What’s harder to judge is the effect of a related program, this one aimed at drivers.

Stay and Play

Starting in 2013, state transportation officials started a program called “Change Your Peak Drive,” which encourages people to spend another couple of hours in the mountains before heading back to the Front Range. That program is being conducted along with the I-70 Coalition, a consortium of local governments along the highway.

The campaign rolled out a website that gave businesses a chance for free advertising of various deals to encourage Sunday lingering. Specials included everything from dining discounts to reduced room rates for Sunday-night stays. At least one lodge, The Antlers in Vail, offered guests the chance to check out Sunday evening instead of in the morning, so visitors could go play for the day, then come back, perhaps shower, and then be on their way at their leisure.

The Department of Transportation this winter also launched a campaign to encourage motorists to check the tread depth on their vehicle tires, and entered into a deal to offer discount prices information centers and other vendors on a cloth device called an Auto Sock, which is touted as an easier-to-use alternative to tire chains.

Ford said the results of those driver-targeted efforts will be available in part later this month. But, she added, anecdotal evidence indicates that the campaigns are “starting to change the conversation” about winter highway safety.

Ford said that shift is moving away from what state agencies are doing to what drivers can do to better navigate snowy roads.

“We’re starting to notice (the shift) based on social media and other channels,” Ford said.

Vail Mayor Andy Daly said he’s seeing the positive effects from the state’s efforts.

After last year’s highway closures — there were plenty beyond just the Feb. 9 storm — Daly said he’s seen a “change of vision” in the way the state approaches the I-70 corridor.

“They’re focusing on efficiency of travel now instead of maintenance,” Daly said. “We’re seeing some of the benefits of that.”

Daly said he spoke to new department director Shailen Bhatt at a recent meeting of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

“I told him to keep it up,” Daly said of the current efforts.

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