CDOT plans to normalize traffic through Twin Tunnels on I-70 next week | SteamboatToday.com

CDOT plans to normalize traffic through Twin Tunnels on I-70 next week

Scott Franz

Construction crews work inside the westbound bore of the Twin Tunnels near Idaho Springs on Interstate 70. The Colorado Department of Transportation plans to reopen the westbound tunnel next week.

— The Colorado Department of Transportation is about to hit another major milestone in its quest to ease traffic congestion on Interstate 70 in the mountains.

State transportation officials Sunday will celebrate the completion of the widening of the westbound bore of the Twin Tunnels near Idaho Springs.

The eastbound bore of the Twin Tunnels was widened last year.

CDOT is planning to return traffic to its normal flow through both tunnels early next week.

The reopened tunnels also will start going by their new name, the Veterans Memorial Tunnels.

Kathy Connell, who represents Northwest Colorado on the state’s Transportation Commission, hailed the tunnel improvements as a huge accomplishment that will make the trip on the interstate safer and smoother.

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“We’re making strides, and this one is a huge stride,” Connell said.

The scheduled completion of the tunnel widening project comes right before the busy holiday season and means drivers coming to and from the Western Slope via the interstate should encounter fewer construction delays than they’ve seen in the area during the past two years.

The widening of the westbound bore paves the way for a third lane to eventually be added in the tunnel.

The recent widening of the eastbound bore came with a third lane and aims to help prevent the traffic “clog” that occurred at the Twin Tunnels when thousands of skiers and mountain vacationers reached them Sundays on their way back to the Front Range.

CDOT estimated that adding the third lane to eastbound I-70 would save Sunday travelers about $11.4 million in travel time and fuel costs in 2014.

Both tunnels also now have bright new LED lights that CDOT hopes will prevent drivers from slowing down as they approach the tunnels as some drivers did when the tunnels were darker.

According to CDOT’s schedule for the project, there will be some lane closures in the area through January to finish construction on walls and barriers.

Connell said the remaining closures are expected to come at times when there isn’t much traffic on the interstate.

As one of the state’s 11 transportation commissioners, Connell played a key role in getting the westbound tunnel widened now instead of later.

She said she learned to “sharpen her debate skills” as she expressed support for widening the second tunnel bore this year.

“It’s thrilling because it’s been a lot of hard work,” Connell said. “Some of the hardest work was to convince the rest of the transportation commission that doing the second phase (of the widening project now instead of later) was efficient and critical. That was a huge thing.”

CDOT estimates it saved $6 million by widening the western bore of the Twin Tunnels now because equipment and resources were already on scene from the widening of the eastbound bore.

Even as Connell celebrated the tunnel work, she said there is much more work to be done to improve the Interstate 70 corridor.

“We’re not fixing all of the problems,” she said. “We’re still going to have congestion and issues until we make more improvements.”

CDOT’s latest plans to combat the winter congestion on the interstate include more aggressively checking for bald tires that can lead to epic traffic snarls, providing more snowplow escorts and getting big rigs off the road during treacherous snowstorms.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10