Tue September 3, 2013

Summer Traffic Season Wraps Up In Colorado

With Labor Day weekend now over, road construction projects that had been put on hold to avoid holiday delays are resuming.

Within the next two years drivers along Interstate 70 in the mountains will notice a new project – the installation of a fire-suppression system in the Eisenhower and Johnson Memorial tunnels.

Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, along with Rep. Jared Polis, announced over the weekend that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has awarded the state a $10 million grant to make the improvements.

"Interstate 70 is a major route through the heart of Colorado that helps keep our state's economy churning," said Sen. Bennet in a release. "Whether you're a skier headed up to the high country or a truck driver headed across the country, the Eisenhower and Johnson Memorial Tunnels are important parts of any trip through the mountains. This grant will help ensure the safety of millions of travelers that take this trek each day."

The upgrades are designed to improve public safety and commerce along the I-70 corridor, and ensure that accidents or fires in the tunnels don’t shut down the highway.

"What this program will do is enable us to create a better and more safe situation in the tunnels by helping to suppress some of those fires that might occur from vehicles or others in the tunnel, and by allowing our emergency service providers to respond more quickly to these conditions," says CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford.

Transportation officials hope to begin the design phase of the fire suppression system within a year, Ford says, with construction set to begin in early 2015.

Meanwhile, another project -- the widening of the twin tunnels near Idaho Springs -- is proceeding on pace. Ford says CDOT crews have finished blasting operations, and expect to have the project finished by the end of the year.

In another sign that fall is coming, CDOT has closed the five-mile stretch of Mt. Evans Highway (CO 5) from Summit Lake to the top. The annual closure happens the day after Labor Day, per an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service.

Other key seasonal roads in Colorado, including Trail Ridge Road and Independence Pass, will remain open until adverse weather requires them to be closed.