Colorado gives green light to pace cars for I-70 ski traffic
CDOT has tried it in fair weather. Now the agency plans to use its police pace-car "speed harmonization" on Sundays in January to improve the flow of Interstate 70 ski-season traffic in the mountains.
For years, thehas been exploring remedies for the heavy Sunday afternoon congestion on eastbound I-70 in the mountain corridor.
CDOT experimented with pace-car management of traffic on a Saturday in August and a Sunday last month, and officials have decided it has merit for use on winter Sundays.
The technique calls for police cars with flashing lights to travel along the I-70 mountain corridor at a set speed, with the aim of getting vehicles behind them to match the speed, avoid tailgating and eliminate accidents.
"With no magic-bullet solution to the I-70 issue, it is always refreshing to see new ideas entertained, and CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol deserve credit for their willingness to recognize alternatives that may help in the short-term," said Craig Bannister, public policy and communications manager for Colorado Ski Country USA.
"We're cautiously optimistic after seeing the results of the first two tests and are keen to observe how future implementation might affect travelers in the middle of winter," he said.
CDOT used the technique on Sunday, Sept. 25, from 11:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., for the 27-mile stretch of eastbound I-70 from Silverthorne to Empire Junction. The agency said speeds for the police-led platoons of cars and SUVs averaged 55 mph from Silverthorne to the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels, 50 mph in the tunnel and 60 mph from the tunnel to Empire Junction.
"When traffic congestion occurs, the average speed along this 27-mile segment varies between 10 and 30 mph," CDOT said in a statement that announced the planned January launch of the technique.
"The data showed very high compliance among drivers, and speed differentials between vehicles were reduced, even for vehicles traveling outside the paced group of vehicles," the agency added.
Typically, a police car enters the traffic flow every 10 minutes or so, said CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman.
In last month's Sunday test, hourly vehicle counts varied between 1,879 and 2,273, putting them generally within the "peak capacity" measures for the corridor, Stegman said.
During the hours pace cars led traffic on I-70 last month, CDOT was able to see improvement in the traffic flow east of the test area, from Empire Junction to the Twin Tunnels near Idaho Springs, Stegman added.
"By pacing these groups of vehicles, it allowed the funnel to drain" more efficiently, Stegman said of the reduced congestion east of Empire Junction.
CDOT regional director Tony DeVito said that during September's test, the backup at the Twin Tunnels was only about 1,000 feet, compared with a typical backup stretching four times that length at a comparable time when speed harmonization is not being used.
Clear Creek County Commissioner Joan Drury, who lives along I-70 near Downieville, just east of Empire Junction, said she watched the highway during the August and September tests and was pleased with the results.
"I think the experiment seemed to improve the flow of traffic (on I-70), and there was far less traffic on the frontage roads," Drury said.
Stegman said CDOT believes speed harmonization might be even more effective during winter-driving conditions because at those times, there often is a greater "speed differential" among motorists.
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