26 March 2014: CDOT needs to communicate better

CDOT needs to communicate better

What’s more fun than a creepy, chilling, scary flick? Living through a creepy, chilling, scary real-life experience, of course.  It has finally arrived: “Nightmare on I-70: The Sequel.”  There’s no need to search for a comfy seat away from chatty, popcorn munching theater patrons.  You can experience it all in the comfort of your vehicle, sitting bumper-to-bumper with hundreds of your closest friends, inching along inhaling noxious, cancer-inducing fumes.

All of this is courtesy of CDOT, which is becoming for Clear Creek citizens arguably the most unreliable and untrustworthy of all state agencies.  The hassles of the construction are bad enough, but compounding them is the poor communication from the agency despite its varied ways of getting info out.

Experience has shown CDOT’s information output is often unreliable

CDOT has a website, a phone app, and a 511 number one can call for updates.  It also posts electronic boards along the highway.  Heed them at your own peril because oftentimes, by the time they’re posted, they’re dated or inaccurate. One might be better off investing in a sight-unseen beach-front lot in Arizona than rely on CDOT updates.

A few weeks ago I experienced one more reminder of CDOT’s inability to get it right.  A slide on the west side of Berthoud Pass caused the road to be closed shortly after 3:00 on a Friday afternoon.   In my position at Mary Jane, I began telling guests that from my experience it would likely be closed a minimum of several hours; so it would be wise to hang tight if not to consider booking a room.

Around 6:30, CDOT posted the grim news in upper-case letters: Berthoud Pass is likely to be closed for the night.  At that point I strongly encouraged folks to hunker down and find a room, which were minimal at best due to the time and date.  Accordingly, many reluctantly paid exorbitant rates for tiny quarters, nevertheless happy to have a warm and safe place to stay.

However, two hours later at 8:33 the site announced the pass was open, but with the caveat, once again in upper-case letters, that it would be re-closed at 5:30 AM Saturday morning for avalanche control.  Not only was the pass closed for only for a couple of hours, not all night as it had proclaimed, crews did not perform avalanche controls in the morning.  In short, both pronouncements were blatant falsehoods.  Indifference?  Incompetence?  CDOT-ence?

If this were an isolated case, one could overlook it, but it’s not; it’s ongoing.  It seems everyone I talk to in Clear Creek has his/her own war story.

One local, talking about his frustration in context with the renewed I-70 closings, said “Despite CDOT getting its act together and sending out notices the day prior, something we’ve been asking for all along, the problem with delayed same-day announcements persists in that they come 15 to 30 minutes afterwards.”

“They do not impact those from out of the county,” he notes, “as much as those living here.”

Indeed, Clear Creek residents who depend on access to the highway for their livelihoods and safety remain an afterthought for CDOT.

Beyond that, I wonder still about the efficacy of widening the westbound tunnel.  CDOT states one of the benefits is that “with a wider, brighter tunnel entrance, the traffic flow on westbound I-70 will improve as motorists will be less likely to slow down when approaching the tunnel.”

That is until the volume of or the inevitable accident in the traffic that has already passed through the tunnel causes a backup.

Widening the eastbound tunnel made perfect sense in that the highway opened to three lanes allowing traffic to flow from it to Denver.  That’s not the case westbound.  Unless and until the highway is widened all the way through the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels, there will be a pinch point; and the laws of physics and common sense hold that at that point traffic will inevitably snarl.

Not to worry though.  CDOT further states, “This project sets the stage for future westbound I-70 improvements which may use the extra lane for general purpose travel, peak period travel and/or transit.”

So there you have it: Clear Creek will continue to be a scenic conduit for Summit County and Vail.  The writing is inscribed on the soon-to-be-widened tunnel wall

But at least we know where we stand in CDOT’s priorities.

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