Traffic backs up at new Worm Hole |

Traffic backs up at new Worm Hole

So much for first impressions.

It appeared Tuesday that relocation of the infamous Worm Hole 1.6 miles toward Aspen from the east edge of the Basalt Bypass solved midvalley traffic maladies.

But on Wednesday and particularly Thursday, it became clear that congestion still exists in a big way. Traffic in the single-occupant-vehicle lane was backed up almost 2 miles from the new Worm Hole at Wingo Junction, where two upvalley lanes filter down to one.

During the height of rush hour at 8:15 a.m., about a dozen frustrated drivers were seen pulling into the high-occupancy-vehicle lane, which is supposed to be reserved for vehicles with two or more people.

The scofflaws were greeted by at least two Colorado State Patrol troopers who were stationed along the Holland Hills stretch of highway. They were busy flagging violators over.

“I’m sure they’re giving tickets,” said Capt. Fred Bitterman of the patrol’s Glenwood Springs office.

Public service announcements designed to encourage compliance with HOV designations haven’t worked well, so enforcement is necessary, he said. Although regular patrol cars were being used Wednesday and Thursday, officers will use unmarked cars in the near future, Bitterman warned.

It was obvious that some of the drivers who were alone in their vehicles were seething as they plodded along in stop-and-go traffic while watching a few vehicles whisk by in the HOV lane.

Colorado Department of Transportation project engineer Ralph Trapani said Thursday morning he was sorry to hear that traffic was backed up that badly, but it should send a clear message – take the bus or car pool to shave time off the commute.

“The HOV is supposed to be a travel time incentive. I think today was an extreme example,” said Trapani.

He couldn’t explain why traffic was backed up farther in the single-occupancy-vehicle lane than it was other days this week. The Worm Hole was relocated last Thursday when the four-lane Holland Hills stretch was opened.

“The Worm Hole will cause a breakdown at peak hours wherever it is,” Trapani acknowledged.

That’s why CDOT is promoting the HOV lane and mass transit. The goal, in engineering jargon, is to increase the average vehicle occupancy, or AVO.

“You take big steps in reducing congestion by increasing your AVO,” said Trapani.

But for some commuters, it’s frustrating to discover that the four-laning of Highway 82 doesn’t necessarily translate into a free flow of traffic. Four-lane stretches between Basalt and Aspen will have one lane dedicated to HOV during the peak morning and afternoon travel times.

Trapani maintained that the four-laning cuts the travel time for all commuters. People eligible to use the HOV lanes just enjoy a greater savings.

He also noted that moving the Worm Hole has drastically improved ingress and egress from Basalt. Traffic is no longer backed up where vehicles from town are trying to enter the highway.

Trapani said he supports educational efforts along with enforcement, so CDOT will “crank up” its public service announcement campaign to explain why the HOV lanes are needed and how they work.

In four-lane stretches between Aspen and Basalt, one upvalley lane is dedicated to HOV between 6 and 9 a.m. One downvalley lane is HOV-only between 3 and 6 p.m.

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