There are two tests down and one to go in the Colorado Department of Transportation's latest plan to improve the eastbound Interstate 70 drive on peak weekends.
CDOT's latest two trial runs with the rolling speed harmonization process, also called pacing, seem to have transportation and local law enforcement officials cautiously optimistic the program will be successful in reducing accidents and metering in peak winter weekend traffic. Drivers, however, aren't as thrilled with the new process.
Though CDOT says the department has received letters of approval from the public, local drivers seem less enthusiastic.
"I actually got caught up in it Sunday," stated reader Chris Drake through an online comment. "I'd have to say it did nothing except congest/pack the drivers together. More road and less people is the only way I see to ease the congestion."
But, though CDOT's pacing plans might be weighing on local's minds, they're not hitting their pockets, local law enforcement officials say.
CDOT pays 100 percent of the costs to the Silverthorne Police Department and any other agencies that run the pacing process, including the expenses of staff time and use of patrol vehicles. The total price tag has come to about $1,500 per test.
"It's a contract that's set up through CDOT," Silverthorne Police Chief Mark Hanschmidt said. "The officers are utilizing our cars and CDOT is paying for the officer's time and the vehicles'. These were off-duty officers. I wasn't pulling people off the street to do that."
In the last test, Sept. 25, Silverthorne patrol vehicles managed the pacing up to the Eisenhower tunnel and Colorado State Patrol took over on the east side.
But if the pacing program were implemented full-scale next year, as appears to be the course CDOT is on, Silverthorne would not have the man power to staff it alone. Officers from Summit County's other law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff's office and neighboring towns, would fill in as resources were available on Sunday and holiday afternoons.
The pacing process puts patrol vehicles out in front of traffic with emergency lights on at about five-minute intervals. Once the law enforcement officer has let the cars behind it know that they are not supposed to pass, it leads traffic at a controlled speed - generally about 55 mph in a 60 mph posted area. Recent tests on a Saturday in August and last Sunday were implemented when traffic hit about 1,800 vehicles per hour through the highway.
"I know it sounds a little bit wacky," CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said. "It's that driver behavior, where everyone's going slow and then when traffic breaks everyone kind of punches it and then there's an accident. So (the idea) was, if we can get the trucks and everybody to go a little bit closer together, you're not going to have that conflict, you won't have all the accidents and then you won't have all these residual delays down the road."
CDOT officials say it will also help reduce metering at the tunnel, which makes weekend traffic worse. For every minute traffic has to be stopped at the tunnel, it takes six to eight minutes for the back-up to recover.
The key now will be finding out whether rolling speed harmonization works on icy and snowpacked roads, Hanschmidt said.
The next test of the pacing process is set for December.