Winter goal: Keep I-70 traffic moving | AspenTimes.com

Winter goal: Keep I-70 traffic moving

Nicole Formosa
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GOLDEN ” With traffic counts continuing to climb on the Interstate 70 corridor, the Colorado Department of Transportation is implementing several new programs to keep vehicles moving during the winter months when weather and accident-related closures are common.

CDOT is expanding its Courtesy Patrol, which assists stranded motorists, to help truck drivers as well in an effort to ease congestion between Morrison and Vail Pass.

Heavy truck tow drivers will work near Vail Pass, the Eisenhower Tunnel and Georgetown during the peak ski season on weekends and holidays to more quickly clear away semi-trucks that are blocking the road.

“We didn’t have that before and the problem we encountered over the years is when you have trucks that are stranded, unprepared, or just got into an accident on our corridor it closes our highway, and it costs as much as $800,000 an hour every time this highway’s closed,” CDOT Region 1 traffic engineer Bernie Guevara said during a media briefing at CDOT’s Traffic Operation Center in Golden on Tuesday.

CDOT is also working with the Colorado State Patrol and Port of Entry on an inspection program to prevent semi-truck drivers from approaching the mountains without chains. As an added measure, CDOT will allow private vendors to sell chains to truckers who wind up unprepared on the corridor anyway, Guevara said.

“We are very hopeful that with these programs we will make a difference providing a lot more improved safety and also mobility on this highway,” Guevara said.

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As part of its $2.475 million pledge toward increased trucker safety, CDOT has finished paving seven new chain-up stations along the corridor for a total of 137 new parking spaces, Guevara said.

That’s in addition to the 11 chain-up stations and 185 parking spaces that already existed.

“What this means is we have pretty much maximized what we can do on that corridor,” Guevara said.

Where there’s room, such as the chain-up area on westbound I-70 through Georgetown, crews have built a ditch to separate truck drivers installing chains from regular lanes of traffic.

That technique will be used in East Vail, where a truck driver was struck and killed last week as he removed the chains from his semi, Guevara said, as well the Herman Gulch area on the eastbound side of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Speed limits will also be lowered near chain-up areas.

Work on chain station improvements will continue next year, when CDOT plans to add lighting and additional signs ” both electronic and static ” to all the chain stations, Guevara said.

CDOT also has a plan to prevent motorists from being stuck at a standstill on the interstate for hours during snowstorms or accident situations that block the road.

Crews will place pre-staged signs at strategic locations, such as westbound milemarker 248, that will be used to turn around cars when the interstate is closed, said Ken Wissel, deputy maintenance superintendent for Region 1.

“We’ll move them right back down into the city where, no, they’re not getting where they want to go, but they can get to facilities, they can get to fuel stops, they can get food service and all the other necessary items that travelers need,” Wissel said.

Local traffic, such as residents in Clear Creek or Summit counties, would be allowed through, Wissel said.