Eisenhower Tunnel night work and closures begin April 6
The Colorado Department of Transportation welcomes the start of mud season with nearly four weeks of night closures at the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel.
Beginning April 6, CDOT crews will install steel channels and fiber-optic wiring for a new fire-suppression system in the east- and westbound bores. The night-only construction is slated for Sundays through Thursdays and tentatively scheduled to last 20 days, or until May 3, barring weather delays.
CDOT crews will begin closing lanes by 8 p.m., with a full closure of one bore each night from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Traffic will alternate between the bores, meaning while the westbound bore is closed, all traffic from both directions will pass through the eastbound side, and vice versa.
“We chose the mud season on intention,” said Stephen Harelson, CDOT region 1 west program engineer. “It shouldn’t have a major impact on the flow of traffic, but just be aware of timing. If you have to be to Denver at 6 in the morning, give yourself that extra half hour.”
For safety, pilot cars will lead commuters through the open bore during the night. Traffic will be kept at 35 miles per hour in the tunnels and closures on both sides. Travelers can expect delays of up to 20 minutes while traffic from the other side passes through. Given low traffic counts — each tunnel bore averages 100 cars per hour during mud season — officials say the wait will be closer to 10 minutes.
“Because there are so many buildings in the way up there, on the eastbound and westbound sides, those curves are too sharp to keep the typical speed,” Harelson said. “The pilot car will be to keep people at 35 miles an hour — those turns just can’t handle 55 miles per hour.”
Before traveling through the tunnels, commuters can check Cotrip.org for daily closure information. Crews will not work if snow or rain is in the forecast, and Harelson expects updates to be posted by noon each day. The project could be extended if Mother Nature acts ornery.
“The (Eisenhower Tunnel) is one of Colorado’s most important assets and we must protect the public who utilizes it, as well as the structure itself from long-term damage, which could result in billions of dollars worth of damage,” said Tony DeVito, CDOT region transportation director, in a release. “We know that any closure of the tunnel would have negative repercussions that would reverberate along the I-70 mountain corridor, which is why this project is so important.”
This marks the first time CDOT has closed an entire tunnel bore for planned construction in nearly 15 years, when the driving surface was still paved with concrete. Today, crews can lay asphalt on one lane while traffic passes through the other lane.
A MUCH-NEEDED UPGRADE
Work on the fire-suppression system is already in progress — it began several weeks ago — but Harelson says the upcoming channel and fiber-optic installation is too dangerous for single-lane closures.
“We can’t just do a lane closure because if one of those (channels) gets dropped, it could be deadly,” Harelson said. “It’s very labor intensive, and once that channel is hung they’ll have to install the rest. It really does require full closures.”
The mud season work is the first phase of a $20 million fixed fire-suppression system project. As Harelson explains, the new fiber-optic wire can pinpoint heat from a fire or other hazard down to nearly 50 feet. The wiring and heavy, rugged steel channels will run the entire 1.7-mile length of both bores.
Phase two of the project begins early this summer, or as soon as the wiring and channel installation is complete. This phase involves sprinklers and water pipes, yet CDOT doesn’t expect either bore to close fully during construction. The entire fire system will be complete by Dec. 1, again, if weather cooperates.
In the meantime, Harelson and CDOT suggest taking the scenic route: With winter on its way out, Loveland Pass should remain open until the majority of construction wraps up.
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