IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Transportation has begun closing Interstate 70 as workers start to install a $25 million fire suppression system in the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels.

“There’s a linear heat detector on the ceiling of the roadway and it will detect heat which will send a signal to the control room,” said Raelene Shelly, CDOT Project Manager.

It’s believed a fire inside the tunnel could cause up to $2 billion worth of damage, so work is starting to protect the vital Colorado artery.

Workers monitor traffic at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels (credit: CBS)

Workers monitor traffic at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels (credit: CBS)

“This investment can save lives, and it really will. By having the sprinkler system in place there’s no doubt that we can avoid the type of incidents that could cost dozens and dozens of lives,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado.

RELATED: CDOT To Begin Closing Eisenhower Tunnel For 20 Nights

Right now a 40-year-old fire brigade protects the mile long tunnel, but soon the sprinklers will help do the work. The first step is putting in the system to detect fires.

“We’re going to be doing overnight closures of the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels to install a linear heat detection system,” Emily Wilfong with CDOT said.

Starting on Monday night the eastbound tunnel will close.

“To minimize the impact to travelers is (to) only close one tunnel bore at a time,” Wilfong said.

RELATED: New Fire Suppression System For Eisenhower Tunnel Gets Green Light

Traffic will be alternated through in roughly 20 minute intervals.

“We are not going to be doing this work on weekends, we know that’s a high traffic volume time for drivers that want to get up into the mountains,” Wilfong said.

The Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels (credit: CBS)

The Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels (credit: CBS)

But on lower traffic nights during the week the work will take until May to finish.

“This really is the first steps of getting this installation system installed. Once we get this done there will be minimum impact to traffic because a lot of the work that we’ll be able to do is above the lanes of travel.”

Lanes will start closing around 8 p.m. with a full closure in place by 10 p.m. The closures will last overnight until about 6 a.m.

LINK: Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels Fixed Fire Suppression System Fact Sheet

Additional Information From CDOT

TRAVEL IMPACTS:

• I-70 traffic will be stopped in both directions at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels on Sunday through Thursday nights beginning Monday, April 6, from 10 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. each night, weather permitting
• Traffic will be held for up to 20 minutes, while pilot cars lead I-70 traffic in alternating directions through the open tunnel.
• US 6/Loveland Pass can be used as an alternate route, weather permitting.
PROJECT INFORMATION:

For more information on this project, visit codot.gov/projects/EisenhowerFireSystem. For information on I-70 travel conditions, visit COTrip.org, download the CDOT Mobile app, sign up for GovDelivery or call 511. Updates are also available via Twitter @coloradodot and CDOT’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/colorad

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