Driving times on I-70 falling
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.