NMA E-Newsletter #168: Diary of a Snow Tortoise

In a recent E-newsletter (#162: Slowing Down to Speed Up) we described “Operation Snow Tortoise,” the effort by Colorado Department of Transportation to improve traffic flow on a busy stretch of I-70. The operation employed police cruisers to lead waves of cars through the narrow mountain pass at a fixed speed as way to reduce the congestion of weekend ski traffic.
Thank goodness the operation has shut down for the season, but we did receive this firsthand account from NMA Colorado member, Stephen Hultquist, who is a part-time ski instructor at Colorado’s Copper Mountain:
I “commute” the I-70 corridor to and from the mountains on the days I teach or guide. Today, Sunday, March 4, was such a day. Yesterday was, too, and during the day the big programmable signs all said, “Warning: Expect Heavy Traffic Eastbound on Sunday March 4”. Today, they said, “Expect Heavy Traffic Home to Denver Today.” What they should have said was, “We are going to create traffic tie-ups.”

I left the slopes early today in an effort to beat the traffic, but thanks to CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol, I couldn’t. Even though it was 1 pm and the traffic was still light, the “pace car” pulled in front of us and drove 45 mph up to the tunnel, slowing around corners and sometimes speeding up on straight-aways. 
From Silverthorne to Floyd Hill, the patrol pace car varied in speed from a virtual standstill to as high as 60 mph (near the end), with the speed averaging 35-40 mph on an interstate designed for much higher speeds. The result was rolling gridlock. People were jockeying, taking surface and frontage roads, and developing more and more frustration as a result. When the pace car pulled off at the Central City Parkway, the traffic immediately speeded up to 75 mph on average and moved quickly down the mountain.

This idiotic mess is a joke. At a time when revenues are down, demands on government workers are up, and the need for tourist dollars pressing, how can anyone honestly believe that making life infinitely more difficult is somehow a “good thing?” Because they aren’t willing to do the hard work to find out what actually works.

I hope I don’t get stuck in that mess, again. There’s a reason I avoid working Sundays as much as possible!
But Stephen’s hopes were dashed with this follow-up account from the next weekend:

There I was on the way home from Copper, again, and there they were, the various overtime-earning patrol officers driving their pace cars at speeds to “harmonize” the traffic.

What actually happened was this: Traffic slowed to the speed of the slowest vehicle, inevitably an 18-wheeler. Big rigs can’t climb or descend the grades on I-70 at more than 20-35 mph, so that was the speed of Operation Snow Tortoise. Yes, all of the traffic was “harmonized,” and yes, there were no accidents, but at such slow speeds on an interstate highway, is that really any surprise? Of course not! How about this instead:

  • Enforce lane restrictions: slower traffic keep right, keep right except to pass (both laws in Colorado).
  • Teach people how to drive! The need to know sign shapes is obvious, but how about merging, looking ahead, exiting, lane courtesy, and the like? Utter ignorance abounds!

“Success?” Not at all. A cover-up for an unwillingness to actually do something useful about speed limits and drivers? Yep.

Thanks to Stephen for his “road-level” observations and common-sense recommendations. Perhaps we should have named our original story “Slowing Down to Slow Down.” 


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