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One lane of I-70 through tunnels to close; 'pace car' program suspended

Police pace cars have been used since the beginning of the ski season in a novel attempt to avoid bottlenecks that forced highway officials to periodically close the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnels. (Courtesy: COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION)

The Associated Press

1/31/2012

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation is closing one lane of Interstate 70 through the Twin Tunnels this week for inspection work.

The department said Tuesday the work will begin at 8 each night through Thursday. The lane is scheduled to reopen at 7 each morning.

Drivers going to and from Glenwood Springs should expect minor slowing through the area.

In related  news, a program that uses police pace cars to reduce traffic congestion on Interstate 70 in the mountains this winter was suspended after too many skiers and other mountain visitors jammed the highway, creating a bottleneck.

There were too many cars trying to get through the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnels on Sunday and the vehicles were too slow for the police pace cars, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said Monday.

I-70 is also a heavily-traveled truck corridor.

Stegman said the department will review the program and may use it later in the season when traffic is lighter.

Traffic through the tunnel was up slightly from the same Sunday in 2011, 43,953 vehicles compared with 42,590, she said.

The pace cars have been used since the beginning of the ski season in a novel attempt to avoid bottlenecks that forced highway officials to periodically close the tunnels so cars don't get stuck inside and prevent emergency vehicles from entering the tunnels in the event of an accident.

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“It's really too hard to figure the optimal time for using the pace cars,” Stegman said. “When traffic is light, it's unnecessary and it slows traffic down. When it's too heavy, the cars go too slow.”

Colorado lawmakers have wrestled with the problem for years, along with study committees. One proposal promoted a “zipper” lane on weekends, using moveable concrete barriers to temporarily add an extra eastbound lane, blocking one lane in the tunnel.

Stegman said that wouldn't work because it would simply shift the backups to the westbound lanes. Other proposals included a train up the Interstate 70 corridor, which was deemed too expensive, along with proposals to widen the highway and even add a third bore to the tunnels.

The ski industry isn't alone in bringing traffic jams to the mountains, said Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents most of the ski resorts in Colorado.

Campers, resort vacationers, mountain bikers and other mountain enthusiasts also need the extra room.

“There is no magic solution,” Rudolph said.

Stegman said the only solution is spending the billions of dollars needed to widen the highway.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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