Bypassing I-70’s bottleneck blues

Anyone who has the misfortune to be traveling the wrong direction on Interstate 70 on a busy ski or holiday weekend is familiar with the bottlenecks that develop at several locations as the traffic slows to a crawl. One of the worst such locations is at the narrow Twin Tunnels, east of Idaho Springs.

So it is welcome news that the Colorado Department of Transportation has assembled a team of international traffic experts this week to examine the Twin Tunnels bottleneck and develop possible solutions for it. Unfortunately, enthusiasm for that effort must be tempered by the realization there is virtually no money for even modest-priced fixes.

There is certainly not $500 million to $800 million available to bore a third tunnel next to the existing two, which is what Transportation Department officials have estimated it would cost.

Less costly but still pricey options include widening the two existing tunnels or cutting out the rock that now separates the two tunnels, according to The Denver Post. The most affordable option discussed to date is to use the existing frontage road near the tunnels to carry additional traffic during peak hours.

We hope the assembled experts will come up with other reasonable options for releasing the bottleneck pressure at the Twin Tunnels. And we truly hope they don’t do it simply by making traffic worse for people from this side of the mountain who may be traveling in the opposite direction of the heavy ski traffic.

That would be the net effect of a proposal to convert to so-called zipper lanes during times of peak traffic. Under the zipper plan, portable barriers would be moved in the most congested areas to convert one lane of westbound I-70 to eastbound traffic on busy Sunday afternoons when Front Range folks are headed home from the mountains. But that option would mean westbound traffic — Western Slopers headed home after a weekend on the eastern side of the mountains — would slow to a crawl where only one lane of highway was open.

Fixing the bottleneck for one set of Colorado motorists shouldn’t come at the expense of another group.


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