State officials blame drivers for mountain tie-up

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation is blaming drivers for a major traffic tie-up over the weekend, saying some of them were unprepared for winter driving in a state known for snow and ice.

It took some drivers around eight hours to get from Vail to the Denver area Sunday. Just going from Silverthorne to the Eisenhower Tunnel took some over four hours after so many skiers and snowboarders flocked to the mountains because of all the new snow.

The department said in a statement Thursday that some drivers had cars with bald tires, and big trucks were not using chains on slippery roads, bringing traffic to a near-standstill when vehicles spun out of control.

The department said 22 stranded vehicles had to be removed and 11 commercial vehicles were rescued after failing to put on chains for the approach to Eisenhower Tunnel.

“Of the 22 (non-commercial) vehicles, 19 had bald tires and 18 had in-state plates,” the statement reads, in part. “Lanes blocked by spun out passenger and commercial vehicles caused delays to increase at an astounding rate to where (the department) was forced to close eastbound I-70 in order to allow the traffic and dozens of accidents and spun out vehicles to be cleared.”

The release offered 11 potential solutions including regulating the amount of traffic leaving the ski resorts, closing eastbound I-70 to truck traffic before the major passes leading to Denver when conditions get bad and having the Colorado State Patrol set up passenger vehicle traction checkpoints at mountain onramps to make sure they have the proper tires.

Another possible solution includes limiting I-70 access only to vehicles with four-wheel drive.

Transportation Systems Management & Operations Director Ryan Rice said it’s not his idea, but the department could do it if it wanted to, KUSA-TV reported Friday (http://tinyurl.com/l9rjetl).

“When you have hundreds of Colorado residents reaching out, as they did after last Sunday, suggesting that we limit road access to only vehicles with four wheel drive, something that statute actually does allow, you realize that the public understands their part in helping to ensure the success of keeping I-70 west moving,” Rice said.

Department spokeswoman Amy Ford it’s not a threat, but it is possible.

“It’s not something that we plan on doing. It’s a law on the books. We were asked if it was out there,” Ford said.



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