I-70 off ramp motorists to get a lot more warning if headed the wrong way

Motorists entering Interstate 70 from the wrong direction via off ramps is a larger problem in northwestern Colorado than in other areas of the state, so the Colorado Department of Transportation is installing enhanced warning systems at 87 I-70 off ramps, including 12 sites in Eagle County.
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New CDOT program focuses on northwestern Colorado

For some reason, motorists in the northwest quadrant of the state are statistically more likely to wind up traveling the wrong way on Interstate 70.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to do something about that. Work on a new wrong-way notification project is planned at 87 I-70 off-ramp locations in western Colorado this year. The list of affected off ramps includes 12 sites in Eagle County. Project construction will begin July 12.

The work will commence at exit 205 (Silverthorne) and continue to exit 2 (Rabbit Valley) just 2 miles east of the Utah boarder. The project involves new signs, lighted signs and signs placed at different heights — all with the goal of letting confused motorists know they are headed the wrong direction while there is still time to turn around before hitting I-70.

According to Elise Thatcher, CDOT’s northwest Colorado regional communications manager, a recent review of the state’s data — which revealed the higher than average number of wrong-way incidents in northwestern Colorado — prompted the agency to launch construction of a new system.

“That was one of the main factors for why we’re installing these systems. We want to make sure that we’re significantly reducing the number of those crashes, if not eliminating them entirely,” Thatcher said.

Existing “wrong way” signs will get lots of company as part of CDOT’s new notification program for I-70 off ramps.
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More signs, moved signs and lighted signs

The new system builds on the “wrong way” warning signs already in place at I-70 off ramps.

“We will have this progression of signage to try and catch people in locations, along the exit ramp, where they still have plenty of room to turn around,” Thatcher said.

The first notification will be the existing “wrong way” signs with a literal twist. These signs will be slightly angled — around 45 degrees — to make them more visible for motorists heading the wrong way.

“When you make that turn, it’s sometimes hard to see a sign until it’s dead in front of you,” Thatcher explained. “If you can see it while you’re turning, it’s hopefully going catch folks at that first decision point where they’re accidentally entering an off-ramp.”

After that initial point, the system progressively amps up its warnings.

“As drivers continue up that off-ramp, they’ll see another set of signs on either side of the ramp saying wrong way. And these are at two different heights — both 7 feet and 4 feet,” Thatcher said. “The normal height is 7 feet, but in this case, we’re also doing it 4 feet because we now know that drivers are more likely to notice signs if they’re at that 4-foot height, as opposed to the taller 7-foot height.”

If a driver makes it all the way past all of these signs, the final set of warnings will be hard to miss.

“Finally, if drivers unfortunately are not aware that they’re heading the wrong direction on an exit ramp, as they get closer to where the interstate is they will now see a set of signs that say “wrong way” and have lights all the way around,” Thatcher said. “If someone is driving the wrong direction on an off ramp, the radar attached to these sign poles will spot the person driving the wrong way and it immediately lights up the signs.”

Focused on warning

Thatcher noted the new wrong way system is focused on warning motorists rather than nabbing offenders. The reason is practical.

Thatcher noted that the warning systems in other areas of the country include a camera component. That technology triggers a connection to a dispatch center that then alerts law enforcement or first responders, who can attempt to prevent a vehicle from reaching the interstate.

“In northwestern Colorado, we have a lot of areas where it would be very challenging for law enforcement or other first responders to get to the exit ramp in time to prevent the driver from then reaching the interstate,” Thatcher said. What’s more, spotty cell service along the I-70 corridor would thwart effectiveness of a notification system.

“What we have is a modified version that’s developed by the manufacturer, which does not have the very expensive camera component, but does immediately alert the driver in a more intense fashion,” Thatcher said. “And it still captures data on when someone shows up on the radar.”

The system’s recorded data can be accessed remotely, she added. “Previously, the manufacturer had it designed so that you actually had to physically be at the location — literally at the pole in question — where the data was being collected. Fortunately, they modified that for us so that we don’t have to be exactly at that location. It’s safer for our technicians to be not exactly on the off ramp.”

What to expect

Construction on the new system signs will begin next week and continue through the fall, Thatcher said.

“We want to make sure that we can install these systems and move on as quickly as possible,” she said. “As many motorists know, there is quite a bit of construction taking place along I-70, mostly at night, but this is a busy construction season.”

The installations will involve limited off-ramp closures, she said.

“Fortunately, we’re anticipating that we can install these systems really very quickly so that we can keep those off-ramp impacts as limited as possible,” Thatcher said.

To learn more about the project, visit