CDOT extends pacing test today |

CDOT extends pacing test today

Caddie Nath
summit daily news

Armed with favorable results from a shorter pacing test in August, the Colorado Department of Transportation plans to run a longer test through Empire Junction today.

Pacing allows transportation officials to control the speed of traffic up to and, today, down from the tunnel by putting patrol cars out in front of vehicles at five-minute intervals.

Though traffic will be kept just 5 mph under the posted speed limit of 60, officials say the practice will help smooth the flow of traffic and eliminate accidents in the wintertime.

The last test, run on Aug. 13 was fairly successful, prompting CDOT to move forward with today’s test on what is expected to still be a fairly busy afternoon.

CDOT officials said they expect peak volumes to be between 1,800 and 2,300 cars per hour today. On a busy winter Sunday, eastbound Interstate 70 may see as many as 3,000 cars per hour.

“We wanted to catch a Sunday where there would be significant amounts of traffic,” CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said. “We’re still getting decent amounts of traffic on Sundays heading eastbound, but not the maximum amounts we see in July and August. It will give us a good barometer. It will give us a good idea of how operations are working over a longer stretch as well.

The first test was done over eight miles from Silverthorne to the Eisenhower Tunnel. Today’s test will run 27 miles from Silverthorne to Empire Junction.

The pacing practice, known as rolling speed harmonization, is used all over the country in specific heavy traffic situations – such as after football games in Lincoln, Neb., – but not on long stretches of mountainous highway.

Rolling speed harmonization is ultimately intended to keep cars moving at a constant pace up the 10-mile incline to the tunnel. The program is expected not only to reduce the need for metering – 20 minute traffic stops outside the tunnel that allow traffic to move through the tunnel without creating a gridlock inside – as well as accidents.

“They found if they can keep people at a steady pace, you avoid the breaking and accelerating – and that’s the thing that tends to lead to crashes,” assistant Summit County manager Thad Noll said.

The accordion effect of stop and go traffic on icy and snowpacked roads in the winter also frequently causes cars to get stuck on the steeper grades up toward the tunnel.

The first test was successful in controlling traffic flows and in coordination between CDOT and various law enforcement agencies involved. If today’s test is successful as well, CDOT will give the program one more trial run on winter roads in December before considering full implementation on busy Sunday and holiday afternoons early next year.

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