‘This is the big event’: I-70 expected to see heavy traffic in lead up to New Years | SummitDaily.com

‘This is the big event’: I-70 expected to see heavy traffic in lead up to New Years

Travelers urged to prepare for additional travel time amid potentially hazardous conditions

The Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels are pictured Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

Traffic this week on Interstate 70 through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels is likely to be some of the heaviest of the year. 

Data from the Colorado Department of Transportation, or CDOT, shows that more than 243,000 vehicles have already passed through the tunnels going east and westbound between Dec. 20 and Dec. 26. For those same dates in 2021, the total was more than 254,000, according to CDOT data.

If traffic trends for the coming days are similar to last year, tens of thousands of more cars can be expected to hit the road in the coming days. Data for 2021 shows that more than 178,000 vehicles traveled east and west on I-70 corridor from Dec. 27 to Jan. 1. 

“This is the big event,” said CDOT spokesperson Elise Thatcher. “Definitely plan for additional travel time this week, especially in the afternoons.”

AAA Colorado spokesperson Skyler McKinley said the lead up to New Years tends to see travelers from around the state, and the country, drawn to ski resort communities like Summit County.

McKinley said he expects the busiest travel days to be Dec. 28 and Jan. 2 — a mix of drivers heading toward their New Year’s Eve plans and returning home from their time away during the holidays.

“This is, second only to the summer months, some of the busiest traffic we see on I-70,” McKinley said. “It looks to be continuing a really strong travel weekend for the I-70 corridor.”

Despite what McKinley said was a “perfect storm for the frustration of travelers” this past week — from life-threatening weather conditions to canceled flights at airports — travelers eager to hit the road proved resilient. 

Across the state, travel numbers are anticipated to pass record levels, according to AAA Colorado data. In a Dec. 23 statement, the automobile association said it expected more than 1.96 million Coloradans to travel over the course of the holiday season, which it defines as Saturday, Dec. 21 through Wednesday, Jan. 1.

Of that 1.96 million, 1.78 million will travel by car, AAA Colorado said. 

“That represents Colorado’s highest year-end travel volume on record since AAA tracking began in 2000, and an increase of more than 4% over 2018,” the association said. 

A steady decline in gas prices may be one factor for the high volume of cars, according to McKinley. AAA Colorado data shows the average price for a gallon of gas is $3.54 in Summit County as of Dec. 27. The state’s average sits at $2.81, a dramatic decrease from earlier in the year when prices climbed near $5 per gallon. 

With I-70 traffic expected to remain high, so may frustration. But McKinley said travelers should remember that they are part of that traffic as well.

“Americans see travel, especially around the Christmas holiday, as a right not a privilege,” he said, adding that necessary safety precautions — and a healthy dose of patience — will help ensure a smooth ride. 

Back-to-back snowstorms anticipated for the county this week could mean slick roads and challenging visibility. Snow is expected to begin falling Wednesday night and into Thursday, with a second storm bringing more snow between Friday and Monday, according to meteorologists. 

Thatcher, the CDOT spokesperson, said high speeds in snowy conditions are a major source of accidents. 

“Four wheel drive does not mean four wheel brake,” she said. 

Another culprit of crashes is a lack of winter tires, which Thatcher said are imperative to have when driving on mountain roads. 

“They’re expensive and it’s hard to make a large purchase right now — very understandable,” she said. “But they really can lead to a really rotten day for everybody if you’re in a situation where they can’t get you to where you need to go.”

As drivers prepare to take on heavy traffic and potentially hazardous driving conditions, Thatcher said it’s important to remember that, for some drivers, it’s their first time in the mountains this winter.

“Anticipate that folks on the road next to you might also be remembering how to be prepared, so they might need a little bit of extra space between you,” she said. 

Information on I-70 traffic and conditions is available at http://www.GoI70.com. Information on traffic and conditions for roads across the state is available at http://www.COtrip.org.

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