Summer tunnel traffic surprisingly flat
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summer traffic counts at the Eisenhower Tunnel, normally the stuff of consistent record setting, are not hitting the mark this year.
“We’re just not smashing records weekend after weekend,” said tunnel Superintendent Mike Salamon. “In general, it’s been a pretty flat summer in comparison to last year.”
Traffic counts in June of 2001 and 2002 were about the same, Salamon said, and down by 437 vehicles from July of 2001 to 2002.
“To see two summer months with virtually flat or slight decreased counts is surprising,” he said. “Although August isn’t complete, it would appear it should be similar, based on just our observations.”
Traffic counts at the tunnel have increased consistently since the structure opened almost 30 years ago, with those increases ranging from 3.5 to 5 percent annually. And summer has carried the bulk of that traffic, most notably the month of August.
Salamon isn’t sure why that isn’t happening this summer, though he has some ideas.
“Personally, I would guess if anything impacted some of the recreational users on the interstate this summer it would have been the fire bans and low-water levels at some of the reservoirs,” he said. “Some of the forest fires may also have made people hesitate to come up here.”
In addition to numbers dropping, so has congestion, particularly for eastbound drivers, Salamon said. Vehicles are spread more evenly, not jamming together into the thick blocks that have come to typify late Sunday afternoons and evenings on eastbound Interstate 70. Salamon said he believes that’s because seasoned Front Range drivers know not to head home during those peak hours.
“It’s really been a number of years since we’ve set any sort of (summer) record for an hourly count,” he said. “What that tells me is people really are modifying their return times in deference to the peak periods of congestion. People are getting smarter.
“We haven’t done reverse laning at all this summer,” he said, referring to a congestion-thinning practice that allows an additional lane of traffic to drive eastbound through the tunnel. “We’re seeing approximately 500 vehicles an hour less than our record volumes. Five hundred cars in an hour makes a big difference in congestion.”
This summer, the highest hourly count clocks in at about 2,900 vehicles. The record summer hourly count was 4,363 vehicles, set in July 1999.
Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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