Motorists hot over highway backup
Night work and other options are being considered for Interstate 70 resurfacing west of Glenwood Springs after traffic delays of up to an hour Thursday.Eastbound traffic crawled through the construction zone in South Canyon and backed up past the Canyon Creek exit toward New Castle in the mid-day heat Thursday. It was by far the worst backup since the project began early this month. The work has required occasional one-lane closures on I-70.Robin DeYoung of New Castle was late for an appointment with her daughter after spending an hour in the backup near noon Thursday.”That’s an hour in a heat wave with people sitting there, with no warning that you’d be sitting there,” a frustrated DeYoung said.She said motorists were stuck without access to bathrooms and there was no police presence and few flaggers.”This is a health risk for a lot of people. I had a little girl in my car. I would have turned around if I could have but there was no way to turn around.”State Patrol Capt. Richard Duran said a trooper has been present in the construction zone throughout the project and worked to help alleviate Thursday’s problem. Construction crews eventually opened both lanes of eastbound traffic and suspended work for two hours Thursday afternoon to eliminate the backup.The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Elam Construction of Grand Junction, the project contractor, are evaluating the situation and considering options for reducing traffic delays.Charles Woodcock, the project manager for Elam, said it’s in the company’s interest to address the backups because haul trucks get caught in them, slowing down the construction work.Woodcock said night work may be considered, although it requires a bigger work force to address lighting and other issues.”Nobody likes to work at night, especially on a road,” he said.Nancy Shanks of CDOT said officials will closely monitor traffic today and will be eliminating the lane closure again if needed to reduce backups. She said they expect to identify a long-term solution by next week.Initial work on the project was confined to westbound I-70 and backups were minimal. But Shanks said eastbound traffic volume is higher. In addition, Thursday’s work took place in a particularly narrow stretch of the highway. Shanks said the open lane today should be a little wider.On Thursday crews also had to contend with an oversize vehicle that entered South Canyon despite a width restriction. Once something like that creates a backup, it can be hard to restore traffic flows,Woodcock said.Until Thursday, CDOT had been warning motorists to expect delays of up to 20 minutes on the project. Crews haven’t been working during morning and evening rush hours, when traffic already is heavy on I-70.Sandy Sweeney, who lives outside Silt, said she was frustrated by the failure to use electronic messaging signs to warn people of the backup, and by what she considered to be a lack of enough flaggers and an absence of state troopers. She said the result was a dangerous situation when high-speed traffic had to slow quickly at the sharp curve just west of Canyon Creek. Sweeney feared being rear-ended.”I think you need a better warning system because a lot of people could have been hurt,” she said.Although Thursday’s slowdown caught officials by surprise, Shanks warned that some level of inconvenience is unavoidable during a project such as this one.”When you’ve got interstate traffic narrowing down to one lane and then winding through at 40 miles per hour through a narrow canyon, you’ve got delays,” she said.She said an average of 18,000 to 25,000 vehicles pass through South Canyon each day, although that number is probably higher in July, a heavy month for tourist traffic. The South Canyon project remains on schedule to be completed in October. Milling of the eastbound lanes is expected to continue into early August. The next step in the resurfacing – in-place recycling of the underlying pavement – is scheduled to start Monday in the westbound lanes.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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