Last week the Colorado Transportation Commission approved more than $1.5 billion in road projects throughout the state, including $10 million for the installation of a fire suppression system in the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel.
The award, announced as part of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships program, allocates the final piece of funding for the estimated $25 million project. CDOT already received $5 million from the state legislature through a bill carried by Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and $10 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation through its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grant program.
The RAMP award was one of several announced last week that would directly or indirectly benefit Summit County residents, including funding to reroute Colorado Highway 9 from Summit High School to Summit Medical Center through the Iron Springs area, and to complete Highway 9 safety projects between Silverthorne and Kremmling.
But Thad Noll, assistant Summit County manager, said funding for the fire suppression system at the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnel was a huge win for Summit County residents in terms of safety and tourism.
“It’s a great thing for Summit County because it provides a higher level of safety for travelers, and it would reduce the tourism impact on Summit County if there was a big fire,” Noll said. “This will help ensure the tunnel is open and operations are restored more quickly.”
Currently there is no way for firefighters to safely and effectively respond to a fire in the middles of the tunnels because of limited points of access and the extreme heat generated by the tunnels being somewhat enclosed, Noll said. Luckily, the fires in the tunnel to date have started near the entrances and exits, providing firefighters enough access to push the enflamed vehicle into the open before it could get out of control.
Once the fire suppression system is in place, it would not be used to extinguish vehicle fires on its own, but to keep the fire cool enough and to buy firefighters enough time to move the vehicle out of the tunnel before the flames become too hot.
“This is not only going to help fight potential accidents involving hazardous cargo, but also what they refer to as the ‘margarine truck’ effect,” Noll said. “Any vehicle fire in the tunnel would be a gigantic disaster because there’s a lot more there than just rock.
“There’s offices, ventilation systems and operations centers that would all be destroyed; not to mention all of the people who work at the tunnel, which wasn’t the original intention of the grant, but is certainly a positive byproduct.”
“It’s a great thing for Summit County because it provides a higher level of safety for travelers, and it would reduce the tourism impact on Summit County if there was a big fire. This will help ensure the tunnel is open and operations are restored more quickly.”
Assistant Summit County manager