The first official use of the Interstate 70 pacing program was a success for Sunday afternoon's ski traffic.
Stacey Stegman, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said traffic speeds never dipped below 50 mph for long.
I-70 is notorious for having heavy backups on Sunday afternoons, the peak time for people returning from the ski resorts in Summit and Eagle counties. Trips that normally should be two hours routinely take four hours on Sunday evenings.
"Right now it is a huge success," Stegman said.
CDOT's program involves teaming with the Colorado State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies to act as pace cars for traffic. The rolling speed harmonization program has those cars pulling out and slowing down traffic to a consistent speed. The program stretched from the Eisenhower Tunnel east to Floyd Hill.
Stegman said one observer was skeptical that slowing down traffic could alleviate backups that caused standstill traffic.
"They couldn't believe it," Stegman said.
Traffic reached 2,200 cars per lane each hour at the Eisenhower Tunnel on Sunday during its heaviest flow. Stegman said they see real heavy gridlock when that figure reaches 2,400.
"It wasn't the heaviest travel day," Stegman said. "We see these days coming in February or March."
Pace Cars A Temporary Fix
Stegman said the real test for the program will be when the mountains get hit with a heavy storm during that exodus back to Denver.
The program will be used through this ski season. It, however, is only a temporary fix.
"We know it's only a temporary measure," Stegman said. "It is not something we can do long term. At some point traffic will be too heavy, and it will break down."
A plan that went through the Colorado Legislature a couple of years ago would have introduced a zipper lane along that section of I-70. The removable lane median would be moved to make a configuration of three eastbound lanes and one westbound lane.
That strategy was determined to be not worth the cost since there were no guarantees that it would alleviate gridlock.
CDOT is currently determining how to improve the I-70 Mountain Corridor. The favored plan now includes six lanes from Floyd Hill through the Twin Tunnels, including a bike trail and frontage roads from Idaho Springs to Hidden Valley, and Hidden Valley to U.S. 6.
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