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Eisenhower Tunnel in the headlines: Ten 1970s-era newspaper clippings document its opening

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Eisenhower Tunnel on Colorado’s Interstate 70, we look at 70s-era newspaper coverage of the event.
Posted: 9:30 PM, Mar 07, 2023
Updated: 2023-03-07 23:30:41-05

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Eisenhower Tunnel on Colorado’s Interstate 70 – at the time the highest-elevation vehicular tunnel in the world – we’re taking a look back at how newspapers in the area covered it in the 1970s.

March 9, 1973: We start with the cover of the Vail Trail from March 9, 1973 – the day after the tunnel opened – showing a crowd one thousand strong that packed into the tunnel to mark the occasion.

March 9, 1973: On the same day, the Golden Transcript published an Associated Press article detailing the “$110 million highway tunnel above the clouds” preparing for traffic.

March 2, 1973: Days before the tunnel’s opening, the Transcript wrote of Loveland Pass – the winding stretch of US 6 from Loveland Basin, uphill to nearly 12,000 feet above sea level and back down to Arapahoe Basin – becoming a “memory” as maintenance priority would be given to the tunnel.

The prediction that Loveland Pass would become a "memory" wasn't exactly accurate. CDOT traffic data says 1,800 vehicles per day go over the pass on average. About 20% of that is truck traffic, a portion of which is comprised of hazmat trucks that are not allowed to go through the tunnel when Loveland Pass is open.

Nov. 10, 1972: Also making headlines ahead of the tunnel’s opening was engineer Janet Bonnema, who shattered the glass ceiling in the field. She was featured in The New York Times after winning a years-long battle to get inside the tunnel.

Before that point, women – including Bonnema and female reporters – were not allowed inside the tunnel. Read more of Bonnema’s incredible story here.

June 27, 1973: An AP report states the cost to build the tunnel had ballooned to more than $115 million, more than double the initial estimate.

Sept. 9, 1973: In the fall of that year, The New York Times again wrote about Colorado’s newest tunnel, calling it an “architectural delight” and describing a breakthrough in mountain travel. The article was written by Jon Swan, who had gone on a cross-country trip that took him through Colorado’s high country.

April 19, 1974: It wasn’t all peaches and cream at the high-altitude bore. An investigation was underway over carbon monoxide levels inside the tunnel, and the Vail Trail reported on the calls for improvements to the tunnel’s ventilation system.

March 19, 1974: Days after the one-year anniversary of the tunnel opening, the Golden Transcript reported that 2.93 million cars traveled through it in its first year of operation.

March 18, 1975: Traffic increased in the tunnel’s second year, bringing the two-year total to nearly 6.2 million vehicles, according to a report in The Eagle Eye.

For context, nearly 13 million cars used the tunnel in 2022. Another 1.1 million traveled through it in January of this year.

Nov. 8, 1979: The Straight Creek Journal reports on relief on the way for traffic congestion, as two more lanes (what is now the Johnson Memorial Tunnel) was set to open.

Feb. 15, 1991: The Vail Trail goes in-depth on “engineering wonder and economic boom” brought forth by the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel.


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