A few years ago, traffic on Interstate-70 heading from Denver to the mountains was particularly heavy during the ski season as front-range ski enthusiasts headed up for the day. But with the increase in summer tourism and those day-trippers seeking the golden aspens of autumn, traffic is heavy year-round. Average daily traffic at the Eisenhower Tunnel increased 7 percent from 2004 to 2006, according to CDOT.
This makes the number of truck-related accidents a particular concern along this stretch of interstate. The number of truck accidents that shut down I-70 in Summit and Clear Creek counties have more than doubled over the past three years, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. There were 151 incidents between September 2006 and April 2007 involving tractor-trailers – jackknifed trucks, truck crashes, trucks without chains – that resulted in all or part of I-70 being closed. The closures lasted the equivalent of 5 1/2 days, or 130 hours.
Those numbers compare with 60 incidents involving tractor- trailers resulting in highway closures for 61 hours, or 2 1/2 days, during the same eight-month period in 2004-2005. This is due in part to the rise in commercial freight traffic nationwide.
The CDOT analysis of highway closure data has prompted plans for seven new state troopers to patrol the busy stretch of highway this snow season and expectations that new chain laws will help curb the trend. New chain laws that went into effect at the beginning of this month toughen penalties and require all commercial vehicles to carry chains when traveling I-70 between Edwards and Golden from September through May.
Weather and speeding remain critical factors in mountain crashes and other highway-closing incidents.
Tractor-trailer-related incidents weren’t the only cause for closures in the popular stretch of I-70. Personal motor vehicle crashes along I-70 in Summit and Clear Creek counties climbed 60 percent over three years, from 58 from September 2004 through April 2005 to 93 for that same period ending in 2007. The motor vehicle wrecks resulted in all or part of the highway being closed for 163 hours last year, up from 109 hours two years earlier.
The overall result is I-70 was either entirely or partially closed in Clear Creek and Summit counties for 374 hours last year – or the equivalent of 15 1/2 days.
For not carrying chains is $50, plus a surcharge; for not chaining up when the chain law is in effect is $500 (up from $100), with a surcharge; for not chaining up and subsequently blocking the highway is $1,000 (up from $500), plus a surcharge. The new surcharges have not yet been determined.