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What’s up with I-70? Something to look out for this ski season

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Interstate 70 has everyone tied up in knots. It’s not only an enigma wrapped up in a riddle, but a quagmire that only gets worst with each passing year. So what to do?

First things first is the project the Colorado Department of Transportation has planned for the Twin Tunnels that’s scheduled to be completed in October of next year. The Twin Tunnels represent one of the major bottlenecks on I-70 as three lanes merge to two at the top of Floyd Hill going westbound down to the tunnels, and two lanes curve toward the tunnels from Idaho Springs.

The good news is that the eastbound lanes and the eastbound lanes in the tunnel will be widened to three lanes. The bad news is that during the construction phase, which starts in March of 2013, there will be a detour around the tunnels that will certainly slow things down there, as well as traffic stops when they’re blasting in the tunnel.

The other bad news is that the project only addresses the eastbound lanes; widening the westbound lanes and how best to do it is still being studied. Therefore, once this project is complete, just in time for the 2013-2014 ski season, construction will likely begin anew the following spring for the westbound lanes.

As far as some type of rail system from Denver and up the corridor through the mountains, I wouldn’t count on it. The technical and financial feasibility of such a giant project is currently under review, and while it’s under review there will be ongoing projects to improve I-70 and help relieve the traffic headaches.

To help ease congestion in the meantime, Colorado ski resorts are encouraging skiers and riders to leave home earlier in the morning and linger a little longer, especially on Sundays. The point is to avoid the morning and afternoon weekend rush hours, which typically begin going westbound around 7 a.m., last till about 10, and then resume heading back to Denver around 3 p.m. till about 7 p.m.

So, your choices are: a) Sit in traffic for three or four hours, and b) enjoy a relaxing beer/club soda/beverage of your choice by the fire while you wait for traffic to die down. I’ll take option b, please. This option will be especially important come March when construction starts on the Twin Tunnels project.

Another important point that would help ease traffic issues on I-70 is quite simple: Relax. When volume is heavy, traffic comes to a stop because drivers freak out. They think that getting that one extra car length ahead is somehow going to put them in the fabled cat-bird seat. So, they tailgate, swerve back and forth, and then slam on their brakes.

This conflict between aggressive and timid drivers creates traffic knots that can take hours to untie. All of this can be avoided if everyone takes it easy, doesn’t tailgate, stays off their brakes and simply goes with the flow. This is especially true when it’s snowing and the roads are sketchy.

The problem is the herd mentality. One overly aggressive driver tends to put everyone else on edge, ramping up the overall aggression on the road. Next thing you know, we’re all stopped on an icy incline. Thanks!

While it seems a lost cause, it’s not. One person practicing safe and courteous driving can have a domino effect. Try this sometime: When traffic is at that tipping point between flowing and stopping, see how far you can go without hitting the brakes. This requires you to keep your distance from the car in front of you, which feels somewhat counterintuitive as you do it.

However, if everyone did this and by doing so was able to stay off their brakes, there would be no brake lights and thus no stopping on the highway. And, it’s amazing what one contestant in this suicidal race can do to ease traffic simply by relaxing, maintaining a safe following distance and staying off their brakes. Trust me; I’ve seen it work and it has to start somewhere, so why not with us?

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