DENVER (AP) — A program that uses police pace cars to reduce traffic congestion on Interstate 70 in the mountains this winter was suspended after too many skiers and other mountain visitors jammed the highway, creating a bottleneck.

There were too many cars trying to get through the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnels on Sunday and the vehicles were too slow for the police pace cars, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said Monday.

Stegman said the department will review the program and may use it later in the season when traffic is lighter.

Stegman said no figures on traffic through the tunnels was available, but last year, more than 42,000 cars tried to make it through the tunnels over a similar weekend, squeezing into two lanes each way.

The pace cars have been used since the beginning of the ski season in a novel attempt to avoid bottlenecks that forced highway officials to periodically close the tunnels so cars don’t get stuck inside and prevent emergency vehicles from entering the tunnels in the event of an accident.

“It’s really too hard to figure the optimal time for using the pace cars,” Stegman said. “When traffic is light, it’s unnecessary and it slows traffic down. When it’s too heavy, the cars go too slow,”

Colorado lawmakers have wrestled with the problem for years, along with study committees. One proposal promoted a “zipper” lane on weekends, using moveable concrete barriers to temporarily add an extra eastbound lane, blocking one lane in the tunnel.

Stegman said that wouldn’t work because it would simply shift the backups to the westbound lanes. Other proposals included a train up the Interstate 70 corridor, which was deemed too expensive, along with proposals to widen the highway and even add a third bore to the tunnels.

The ski industry isn’t alone in bringing traffic jams to the mountains, said Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents most of the ski resorts in Colorado.

Campers, resort vacationers, mountain bikers and other mountain enthusiasts also need the extra room.

“There is no magic solution,” Rudolph said.

Stegman said the only solution is spending the billions of dollars needed to widen the highway.

– By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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