Expert team to tackle Twin Tunnels bottleneck near Idaho Springs
Ryan Summerlin February 16, 2011
BRECKENRIDGE -In the hope a fresh set of eyes will yield new ideas, the Colorado Department of Transportation is inviting a team of experts to examine and offer suggestions for the Twin Tunnels, seen by many as a key problem area along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor. “The Twin Tunnels really becomes the choke point,” CDOT Region 1 director Tony DeVito said in a joint meeting with the Summit Board of County Commissioners Tuesday. “This may be an opportunity to get a new look at this. When we do these kind of value engineering teams, we’ve had a lot of success.” The team of 12 industry experts will meet with local officials Monday to discuss the problem and desired outcomes for the tunnels. CDOT will then give the team the next four days to look at the situation and, ultimately, report back with possible alternatives to address the problems. DeVito said the hope is that the team members, who will be paid a $1,000 stipend for the week, will offer a new perspective on a situation CDOT engineers and local officials have grappled with for years.The Twin Tunnels form a shoulderless, two-lane bottleneck slowing traffic between Idaho Springs and Floyd Hill.Officials in Clear Creek County, who call the Tunnels a key “pinch point” for I-70 traffic, say they’re supportive of the decision to bring in the team of experts. “I think it has a very good chance to lead to the first real project on I-70,” Clear Creek County Commissioner Kevin O’Malley said. “It’s the first step in really doing something.” CDOT officials said similar special expert teams have examined similar corridors with successful results, although such teams are usually brought in later in the design process and are generally used for bigger projects. CDOT has introduced a few short-term and relatively low-cost solutions to help alleviate peak-season traffic on the corridor, including a hard-shoulder alternative, which would allow shoulder space to be used for a third eastbound lane on peak-travel days. But the hard-shoulder proposal would only be effective down to the Twin Tunnels, where, without excess shoulder space available, traffic would be reduced back to two lanes. “You are not really solving anything until you solve that bottleneck,” O’Malley said. There are currently no proposed solutions for the Twin Tunnels. “We’re hoping that there’s a unified vision of … what’s going to make sense so we can start exploring some of these concepts,” CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said. “We know that something has got to give on I-70. It’s just very difficult balancing so many ideas of what that is.” To alleviate traffic, CDOT is also exploring the option of a removable “zipper” lane that would reverse traffic on one westbound lane on key Sunday afternoons when eastbound traffic is heaviest. Costing at least $23 million, the zipper lane would cause significant safety risks and would be inaccessible to emergency vehicles. It is also expected to double westbound travel times when in use.