The Eisenhower Tunnel transformed transportation in Colorado, but now it needs serious upgrades |

The Eisenhower Tunnel transformed transportation in Colorado, but now it needs serious upgrades

$150 million to-do list is focus of talk as state leaders weigh needs for system’s most vital link

Jon Murray
The Denver Post
The Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels are seen on March 12, 2021. The west bound Eisenhower tunnel, which is nearly 50 years old, is in need of repairs and has become the focus of state politicians.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

DENVER — In 1968, the town of Vail was in its infancy at the base of a small new ski resort. Breckenridge, an old mining town next to another new ski mountain, was still a tiny enclave with dusty streets. Reaching either outpost in Colorado’s sparsely populated central mountains often meant a white-knuckled drive on twisty ribbons of road over treacherous passes.

Then the tunnels came — two of them, built in succession at 11,000 feet above sea level and burrowed through a mile and a half of often-resistant granite and other rock.

The construction of the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels was a feat of transportation engineering and human toil the likes of which the state had never seen. It took 11 years to build the tunnel’s two bores, and their impact has been felt ever since on Colorado’s world-renowned ski slopes, in its robust tourism industry and in fast-growing mountain towns near Interstate 70, including Vail and Breckenridge.

But as the westbound bore nears 50 years old, the dual tunnels are in need of serious repairs and upgrades. Groundwater leaks through a tunnel liner are causing damage down below, and other needs range from major plumbing and electrical overhauls to new lighting and ventilation system improvements.

The growing and costly repair list is now at $150 million and has caught the attention of state lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis. The Democrat is pushing for an uptick in investment in arguably the single component of the state’s highway system that’s too big to fail — and would wreak havoc if it did.

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