Colorado lawmakers praise $10 million grant for I-70 tunnel improvements | SummitDaily.com

Colorado lawmakers praise $10 million grant for I-70 tunnel improvements

Daily News staff report

State lawmakers have approved $5 million to go toward the cost of a $20 million fire suppression system for the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel.

Before the start of the holiday weekend the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Colorado would receive funding to perform upgrades to the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel.

U.S. Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, welcomed the news, saying the upgrades will strengthen commerce along the Interstate 70 corridor, while improving public safety through improvements to the tunnels' fire-suppression system.

"These tunnels are essential to western economic thoroughfare and sustain our state's ski and recreational industries," Polis said in a news release. "For far too long the current fire-suppression system for the Eisenhower and Johnson tunnels has been dangerously inadequate, but with this funding, the new fire-suppression system will ensure that the millions of travelers who pass through these tunnels each year will be safer from catastrophic fire risk."

The $10 million competitive grant will be funded through the fifth round of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program.

A bipartisan coalition of Colorado lawmakers sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in May 2013 urging his department to award Colorado the $10 million grant.

In the letter, Udall, Bennet, Polis and their colleagues called the project critical to "improve safety for the traveling public and CDOT workers," according to the release.

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They added that equipping the tunnels with a better fire-suppression system would strengthen commerce along the I-70 corridor and reduce the likelihood of fatal tunnel fires.

The tunnels "are engineering marvels that support jobs, businesses and commerce throughout Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West," Udall said in the release. "This competitive grant and the upgrades it will support will strengthen public safety and ensure that the tunnels remain safe avenues for commerce."