Driv­ing times on I-70 fall­ing

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Scott N. Miller

E AGLE COUNTY» This might be hard to be­lieve, but the av­er­age peak-pe­riod travel time on east­bound In­ter­state 70 from Vail to C470 on the west end of the Den­ver area has ac­tu­ally de­clined.

Sure, it’s not much of a de­cline, but ac­cord­ing to the Colorado De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion, the av­er­age travel time on that stretch of high­way in 2014 was 108 min­utes. In 2017, that time had shrunk to 96 min­utes. The non­peak av­er­age is about 80 min­utes.

That de­crease in travel time has been mir­rored for the west­bound trip, al­beit to a lesser level. Again, the most-de­layed year was 2014, when the av­er­age trip from C-470 to Vail took 99 min­utes. By 2017, that time had dropped to 92 min­utes.

Those short­ened travel times have come as the num­ber of ve­hi­cle miles driven on the cor­ri­dor has risen from 536 mil­lion to 587 mil­lion — an in­crease of roughly 9 per­cent.

A big part of the credit goes to the east­bound toll lane through 13 miles of Clear Creek County, be­tween Em­pire and just east of Idaho Springs. That lane opened in De­cem­ber 2015, the year peak-pe­riod travel times be­gan to drop.

Mar­garet Bowes, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the I-70 Coali­tion, a group of lo­cal govern­ment and busi­ness in­ter­ests, said the toll lane, which is mostly open only dur­ing peak travel times, has been proven to re­duce travel times on the cor­ri­dor. But, she added, there’s more at work.

Most week­ends, sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple check Goi70.com, the coali­tion’s travel-fore­cast web­site.

Traf­fic to that site gen­er­ally jumps when the weather changes, Bowes said.

Bowes also noted there’s been a good bit of me­dia ex­po­sure for the state’s web­site, Cotrip.org, as well as ini­tia­tives aimed at eas­ing con­ges­tion on the cor­ri­dor.

Pa­trick Chavez, CDOT’S cor­ri­dor op­er­a­tions man­ager for I-70 be­tween Vail and the Den­ver area, has an of­fice in the Eisen­hower John­son Tun­nels. His job was cre­ated af­ter per­haps the worst peak day on the cor­ri­dor, in Fe­bru­ary 2013. That day, a com­bi­na­tion of a lot of snow, big traf­fic num­bers and hun­dreds of ill-equipped mo­torists added hours to the Vail-to-den­ver trip. Af­ter that in­ci­dent, CDOT took a new look at traf­fic on the cor­ri­dor.

Chavez said over the past few years, the big­gest thing put into place has been co­or­di­na­tion and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween CDOT and the State Pa­trol, as well as town and county po­lice agen­cies along the cor­ri­dor.

The goal of that co­op­er­a­tion is to quickly clear road­clos­ing in­ci­dents, no mat­ter when they oc­cur. Part of that quick re­sponse is a mat­ter of hav­ing re­sources — from pa­trol cars to tow trucks — strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned along the cor­ri­dor.

And, Chavez said, CDOT has started be­ing more proac­tive about clos­ing the road, with the idea that short clo­sures can avoid longer ones.

“In the past, there’d re­ally been a ten­dency to let the road close it­self,” he said.

Now, the road will close briefly, whether to al­low po­lice to clear an ac­ci­dent scene or to give plow driv­ers a chance to clear the road with­out the com­pli­ca­tion of truck and car traf­fic.

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