The fire-suppression system in the I-70 tunnels is a critical Colorado insurance policy |

The fire-suppression system in the I-70 tunnels is a critical Colorado insurance policy

Jesse Paul
The Colorado Sun
The Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels.
Jesse Paul / The Colorado Sun

BENEATH THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE — If the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels are Colorado’s high country artery, think of its $20 million fire suppression system as the health insurance policy that keeps it pumping.

At the very least, the system is meant to prevent travelers from experiencing something truly heart-stopping, like the 1982 Caldecott Tunnel fire in California that left seven people dead. But more realistically, it’s a way to make sure that traffic keeps flowing along Interstate 70 in the event of a much more likely, and less tragic, vehicle fire.

Completed in 2015, the system reflects the Colorado Department of Transportation’s increased focus on the importance of the pair tunnels that carry growing numbers of people and goods to and from the Western Slope each year.

“The system is a risk mitigation strategy,” said Stephen Harelson, chief engineer at the Colorado Department of Transportation. “The goal is to preserve human life first, protect the tunnel from long-term damage second.”

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