Infrastructure Report State of Disrepair
Our state’s transportation infrastructure is crumbling. We’re not maintaining our roads; we’re not expanding our systems to meet the state’s growing population; and we’re not thinking creatively to engineer solutions. If we don’t repair things soon, our highways and bridges will be in jeopardy—along with our treasured Colorado lifestyle.
Weekend I-70 drivers currently experience an extra hour of travel time just to get from C-470 to Silverthorne; by 2035, travel time is expected to be triple what it was in 2000. We explored six ways to ameliorate mountain highway traffic.
- Widen the Twin Tunnels
Problem: A pair of tunnels east of Idaho Springs causes backups during peak times. Solution: Widen the tunnel bores to add third lanes in each direction. Difficulty: Construction would probably require shutting down lanes.Cost: $105 million. Likelihood: 9/10
- Add a zipper lane
Problem: Traffic on I-70 peaks westbound on weekend mornings and eastbound on Sunday evenings. Solution: Create “zipper lanes” with barriers, which would allow driving in one lane on the other side of the highway during peak traffic. Difficulty: This could double travel times on the other side of the highway and create safety concerns. Cost: $24 million and up. Likelihood: 1/10
- Institute congestion pricing/weekend tolls
Problem: Because the highway is free, drivers have no motivation to avoid using it during peak hours. Solution: Install a congestion pricing system in which drivers would pay higher rates to drive at peak times. Difficulty: It’s politically dicey. No one will want to sponsor this bill. Cost: Unknown. Likelihood: 2/10
- Build a high-speed train line
Problem: The best way to get to the hills is to drive. Solution: Construct a high-speed train that would travel next to or above I-70, whisking passengers to stops in places such as Georgetown, Frisco, and Vail. It would reduce traffic and give travelers a public-transit option. Difficulty: It’d be an expensive and epic building project. Cost: $14 billion. Likelihood: 4/10
- Add auxiliary lanes on steep inclines
Problem: Semitrucks (and two-wheel-drive cars during snowstorms) slow traffic on steep hills, like Vail Pass and the inclines leading to the Eisenhower tunnel. Solution: Add an extra lane on steep inclines and declines for slow-moving vehicles. Difficulty: Not too high. Cost: Unknown. Likelihood: 7/10
- Make I-70 six lanes
Problem: The current lanes can’t handle demand, especially between C-470 and Silverthorne. Solution: Where possible, add an extra lane in each direction from C-470 to Eagle-Vail. Difficulty: It’ll be a construction nightmare; adding more lanes will only increase the number of cars on the road. Cost: $5 to $6 billion. Likelihood: 6/10
An original Eisenhower Tunnel worker reflects on a monumental public works project.
On march 15, 1968, construction crews broke ground on what was then the highest vehicular tunnel in the world. Four-plus decades and $262 million later, the Eisenhower tunnel ferries an average of 31,000 vehicles per day through the Continental Divide, its construction a key part of the Interstate Highway System and a crucial contributor to Colorado’s ski industry boom. Richard Eckles, 81, worked on the 11-year project from beginning to end, in several capacities. This summer, he spoke with 5280 about what it was like to play a role in American transportation history.
How did you come to work on the tunnel crews?
I worked for the state highway department. I was sent to Idaho Springs to work on the interstate (Eckles is shown above, in the center, near Idaho Springs in 1959), and since the tunnel was part of the interstate, our crew was assigned to the tunnel. I worked in the documentation section and later was a crew coordinator. After that I did daily reviews of the construction diaries, and some of those summaries went into the documented history of the tunnel.
Did you know you were working on something momentous at the time?
It was a pretty big deal because nobody had put that size of a bore under the Continental Divide before. There definitely was a sense that we were doing something historic; we wrote the first-ever $1 million monthly estimate [for construction costs], and now that’s kind of a regular thing.
Did it ever feel dangerous?
Oh, yeah. It was always dangerous because you never knew what was going to happen, and you couldn’t foresee anything. It was similar to mining because you used drills and dynamite; what miners do is on a very small scale, but we were working on shafts that were about 30 feet by 30 feet.
What does it feel like to drive through it now?
I notice different things happening in there than other people would. When you drive through it you’re only seeing about one-third of the excavation we did above and below the tunnel.
Do you think this project is the last of its kind?
You might see another tunnel someday through that mountain to relieve the I-70 congestion. There might be some new innovations in the technology, but it would be similar to what we did before, only a lot more expensive.