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CDOT: Nightmarish I-70 conditions were caused by unprepared drivers

Delays along I-70. (Photo: Kristen Voegtle/Twitter)

Delays along I-70. (Photo: Kristen Voegtle/Twitter)

DENVER — On the heels of nightmarish travel conditions in the mountains last weekend, state travel officials called on unprepared drivers to do better.

“The numbers say it all,” the Colorado Department of Transportation said in a release Thursday. “On Feb. 9, (CDOT) relocated 22 vehicles on eastbound I-70 between Silverthorne and Eisenhower Tunnel. Of the 22 vehicles, 19 had bald tires and 18 had in-state plates.”

Sunday’s slowdowns, generally caused by vehicles sliding out and blocking traffic lanes, left thousands of drivers stuck in the mountains for hours on end.

Substantial ski traffic is normal this time of year, but both CDOT and some travelers said Sunday’s problems were unusual.

“These are some of the most challenging conditions we have seen in the mountain corridor,” said CDOT’s Transportation Systems Management & Operations Director Ryan Rice. “Over the course of last winter, we did not have any peak travel days that compare to what happened last Sunday.”

While CDOT said it was looking into steps officials could take, including additional snow plow runs and better management of traffic volume, the group was unusually blunt in its assessment of the problem: Too many people are driving into the mountains in vehicles that aren’t up to the challenge of winter weather.

“The 22 (vehicles handled by CDOT) were only a small fraction of the spun-out vehicles that contributed to the heavy congestion and delayed commute for motorists,” CDOT said. “CDOT’s Heavy Tow program also towed 11 commercial vehicles that lost traction on the steep approach to Eisenhower Tunnel, three of which did not use chains as required by law.”

CDOT is seriously considering additional I-70 checkpoints to turn back vehicles that don’t have tire chains or other necessary equipment, the agency said.

“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 … you realize that the public understands their part in helping to ensure the success of keeping I-70 moving,” Rice said.

“Driving in the mountain is a privilege that many of us take for granted,” said CDOT Executive Director Don Hunt. “Success on I-70 West relies on a partnership with our drivers, who play a big role in helping the roads run smoothly, even doing little things like inspecting your tires for good tread before you leave.”

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