DUMONT, Colo. (CBS4) – Road conditions in the high country on Sunday messed up the travel plans for thousands of skiers and snowboarders.
Exceptionally heavy traffic and uninterrupted snow on Interstate 70 during the day made travel in the eastbound direction between Vail Pass and the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel a nightmare.
The worst area was the 15 mile stretch in Summit County from Silverthorne to the Eisenhower Tunnel. Drivers told CBS4 it wasn’t a case of stop-and-go traffic there; it was just stopped.
Jason Voerster, 39, came to Colorado for a ski vacation. He knew he should give himself plenty of time on Sunday to get back to Denver International Airport for his flight home to Minnesota. That flight was scheduled to leave at 6:09 p.m., so he left from Vail in his small rental car at 10:45 a.m.
By 7 p.m. he was only in Dumont at a gas station doing an interview with CBS4 about how amazingly long it took him to get there. He said he was still shaking as he described the ” toughest drive he’s ever done.”
“It was mainly just road conditions,” Voerster said. “You know, on the left side, if you go up a hill, the people with small cars like myself or rear wheel vehicles — they just start spinning and backing traffic up. The roads were just really icy.”
At one point Voerster turned his car off in the middle of a traffic jam and went to sleep for an hour.
“Then I just woke back up. And I happened to wake up right before things started moving again,” he said.
Voerster was planning to find a place to stay in the high country and to return to DIA on Monday to catch a different flight home.
Other drivers had similar horror stories about the interstate congestion.
Larry Belluchie and his wife were trying to get from Telluride to DIA on Sunday and he said it took him seven hours to get from Vail to Georgetown.
Matt Schweich, of Morrison, said it was his worst drive ever back from the high country. He was returning home from Copper and said it took him four hours to get from Copper to the tunnel.
Schweich said things just weren’t moving in the traffic jam leading up to the tunnel.
“A plow couldn’t have got on there. It was just bumper to bumper people,” he said. “There were trucks, cars off sideways, everywhere it was a mess.”
The Colorado Department of Transportation shared the following information about Interstate 70 in the mountains over the weekend.
Travelers are encouraged to visit www.cotrip.org or call 511 for real time traffic updates.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has launched a campaign to encourage mountain visitors to “Change Your Peak Time” when traveling back to Denver, by skipping the rush between 1p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Instead travelers can “Press Play, Avoid Delay” by spending an extra hour having fun in the mountains instead of spending an extra hour in peak traffic. CDOT has partnered with the I-70 Coalition, a consortium representing the mountain communities and resorts, to give travel tips and travel forecasts, and to offer discounts, deals and incentives for travelers interested in avoiding traffic by staying in the mountains for an extra hour or two. Peak Time Deals at www.goi70.com are updated regularly, and list locations of restaurants, entertainment options and retailers along the I-70 corridor offering weekend discounts. In addition to deals offered near resorts, Idaho Springs and Georgetown also offer incentives for travelers who want to leave early to beat the peak traffic, or who have already hit the road but would like to take a break from traffic on their way home. We encourage motorists to take advantage of these offers and to change their travel times in order to take advantage of all that our mountain towns have to offer.
CDOT encourages all drivers using this stretch of roadway to be prepared for the possibility of a storm. Stocking your vehicle with essentials like water, blankets, windshield wiper fluid, hand warmers and nonperishable food items is highly encouraged. Heavy traffic and winter driving conditions as well as vehicles unable to maneuver through icy and snow packed conditions all aide in delays along this corridor in the winter. Preparing vehicles prior to a trip and driving according to conditions is essential to winter travel along this corridor.