IIDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — Labor Day weekend proved to be a busy one along the I-70 mountain corridor. Traffic inevitably backed up Monday evening as people made their way back to the Denver metro, marking the unofficial end of summer.
"It's gone from heavy traffic for the holidays to the point where sometimes you don't even want to mess with it," said Stephanie Lee, a Thornton resident. "It turns people off. I know a lot of people that say they would rather not [go] to the mountains because they don't want to be in the traffic."
Recently compiled data from the Colorado Department of Transportation shows some of the busiest weekends for the Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnels happened outside of the traditional ski season and in the middle of summer. This year alone, CDOT recorded five of the busiest days at the tunnel when compared with previous years.
The two busiest days of the winter season fell on January 25 and 27. Even more, people traveled through the tunnel on June 14 when 55,966 cars made their way through during a 24 hour period.
July 6 and July 28 were also record days, falling within the top 10 highest traffic days at the tunnel.
The data only proves what the owners of a coffee shop, The Frothy Cup, are seeing. They've noticed a dramatic increase in traffic and their business since they bought the store five years ago.
"When July and August hit, and it started getting hotter it was actually getting busier than we thought it was going to be," said Randy Watson, who owns the store with his wife.
Construction is underway to add a new express lane to the westbound side of I-70 from the Veterans Memorial Tunnels to Empire Junction. The $70 million project was announced in mid-July, but it will not be complete until 2020 with testing expected though spring of 2021.
Watson's wife, Glenda, said more people are choosing to call ahead with their orders because they're worried about getting stuck in traffic. The couple hopes the express lane and any improvements to I-70 would allow customers linger a little bit longer.
"I would certainly hope it's going to help and [give] people a little bit more free time," said Watson. "If they've got more free time, they've got more time to come and do things they want to do, which is probably not sitting in traffic."