An Olympian solution to the I-70 nightmare

By Jeff Rundles | Feb 11, 2014

This past Sunday was something of a water-shed day in Colorado, or perhaps I should say snow-shed, as it was perhaps the single most frustrating day for ski traffic coming back to Denver from the mountains in the history of the state. And this particular history – that of frustrating traffic days on I-70 – is replete with horror stories, so February 9, 2014 should probably be hailed as Stephen King Day, although even that master of macabre probably couldn’t have conjured up any fiction that was as scary as real life at the Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnel on Sunday.

I call the event a watershed because it was so bad that the calls for some solution to the problem that is I-70 have been particularly loud. The Colorado Department of Transportation referred to the mess as the “perfect storm” – a combination of unbelievable snowfall attracting the powder-dogs, and the weekend after the not-so-Super Bowl being a peak time for a mountain escape. There were accidents – tons of them – very slippery conditions, “metering” at the tunnel and, well, way too many pissed-off motorists who probably right now are saying they’ll never do that again. Until next weekend, of course.

The truth is that I-70 has been an embarrassment for many, many years, winter and summer, and the powers that be – CDOT, the ski industry, and the mountain towns with jurisdiction along the way – have done almost nothing to address the problem. There’s that “metering” at the tunnel, plans to use three lanes of the four-lane tunnel in the direction of the predominate traffic flow, and I even heard of a plan to use the shoulder lane as a toll-road to add capacity. But the truth is, what we all have done in the 40 years since the first bore of the tunnel opened is to bitch, set a planning session, bitch some more, do more planning, and so on. In other words, nothing.

The problem of arriving at a viable solution, of course, is the cost. Expanding the highway, adding new lanes through boring a wider tunnel, high-speed rail – it doesn’t matter. It would all cost more than people are willing to pay.

I was listening to a radio show on Monday about the horrors of the traffic jam and there was a seemingly unconnected theme that I heard over and over again, and then it hit me. All these people who had spent up to 10 hours in their cars trying to get home told their stories and vented their frustration, and many of them mentioned that they were just trying to get back home on the Front Range so they could watch the Sochi Olympic Games on television.

Voila! There you have it. Colorado should make a serious bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. This is a state where there always seems to be enough political power and the money it brings to do anything related to sports no matter what the cost. New pro football stadium? No problem. New basketball/hockey arena? New baseball stadium? A Grand Prix auto race? Sign me up – and tax me whatever you want, price the hotdogs and beer in the venue at Tiffany prices, I don’t care as long as we can say “let the games begin.”

Here’s what we do and how it solves our traffic problems – on I-70, I-25, Berthoud Pass, and pretty much everywhere else. We get the Olympics bid for the 2022 Winter Games, quickly amass a few billion dollars, stage the indoor events and the main Olympic Village in Denver and Colorado Springs (the home city of the United States Olympic Committee, after all), and hold the outdoor events at various ski-area locations, like Winter Park, Vail, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge. To make this work the key element in the construction leading up to the games will have to be in transportation. When the games are over we get to keep all the new transportation infrastructure – built to excess like everything Olympics – and our I-70 nightmare is over. And in only 8 years – CDOT alone couldn’t do that no matter how much money was available.

The 2018 Winter Games are scheduled for PyeongChang, South Korea, and its host committee won out on its third try. I figure Colorado has an upper hand what with the USOC being headquartered here, and technically this would be our second attempt at hosting the games. We could have had the 1976 games on our first attempt if everyone didn’t freak out at the prospect of too much growth from the Olympic limelight, but since the growth came anyway that won’t be an issue this time around.

We could actually be the first host location in the history of the Olympics to actually get some use out of the Olympics infrastructure once the two-week event is over.

Let the Games begin! And please, end the nightmare.