Editorial: I-70 fixes … or more problems?
It’s difficult to know whether a pair of bills heading for the governor’s desk meant to alleviate gridlock on I-70 will do much good. On the surface, at least one of them makes sense: Anyone who’s ever driven in the high country knows how frustrating it can be to get behind a truck in the left lane going well below the speed limit and only marginally faster than the truck in the right lane. The new law would require vehicles to stay in the right lane if they’re going any slower than 10 mph below the speed limit – with exceptions for lane closures and weather conditions. It applies to five areas along the mountain corridor with a 6 percent grade or more.
Like so many annoying traffic infractions, this seems like another destined only to be enforced in the unlikely event there’s a state trooper handy to actually witness it. Otherwise, we’ll just be fuming behind the offending truck, bus, RV or ancient VW – as we always have. Better, more consistent signs and are also planned and may help, but they’d better be big!
The other bill aimed at I-70 orders a study to assess the feasibility of “zipper lanes” in the corridor between Georgetown and Idaho springs. The idea is to use movable barricades to create three east-bound lanes during busy times – presumably Sunday evenings during the height of the ski and summer seasons. In March, we wrote in this space that we were in favor of studying any potential fixes – partial or otherwise – for I-70 gridlock, and we still are. It’s important to remember that the bill is focused on studying the feasibility of the zipper lanes, and only if CDOT finds it to be a workable solution will it be implemented in any way.
In previous years, a similar solution was used at the Eisenhower tunnel, where one lane of the westbound side was used for eastbound traffic during busy times. That was set aside when traffic volumes made it seem that doing so would just shift the problem from one side to another. And we’re not entirely clear how, on a busy Sunday, taking one lane off the westbound side wouldn’t create quite a crawl to the tunnel for those drivers – especially when you throw in some poky semis. If that becomes the case, then we’re creating a potentially unfair situation where the time of skiers returning to Denver is valued more highly than, say, Summit County locals returning home after a day of visiting.
One other potential solution should also be explored: Taking a page from some European countries and simply banning trucks in the corridor on all or part of those heavy traffic days. That could go a long way toward taking stress off the roadway.
Many questions remain as to how plowing would work around the zipper barricades, how those slippery roads might work with them, how quickly they can be put up and removed. It may be these can’t be successfully mitigated, but it’s well worth the effort to explore these non-billion-dollar fixes. Maybe if enough of them are in place, drivers unfortunate to be stuck in these interstate quagmires will get some relief and the toll on our tourism dollars will be lessened.
-The Summit Daily Editorial Board consists of Matt Sandberg, Alex Miller, Ryan Wondercheck, Jim Ernst and Miles Porter.
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