A lot of work goes into ensuring an engineering feat like the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel (EJMT) is safe and up to date for the thousands of drivers who travel through it every day.
"It is a 24/7 operation not only maintaining it and maintaining the roads in and out of the tunnel and the operations, but also taking care of it," said Tamara Rollison, spokesperson with the Colorado Department of Transportation. "We have a lot of work underway to improve the operations of the tunnel and repairs to the tunnel over the coming years."
CDOT said the EJMT, which has served Colorado for 50 years, currently has some vulnerabilities that crews will aim to fix with several projects totaling $50 million between 2022 and 2024 thanks to Senate Bill 260 and the state's new Bridge and Tunnel Enterprise. These improvements "will enhance safety for the traveling public, upgrade connectivity to the rest of the freight network in the United States, and boost economic vitality along the only contiguous east/west interstate in Colorado," CDOT said.
Rollison explained that an incredible amount of planning and work went into the Eisenhower Tunnel opening in 1973 (the Johnson Tunnel opened in 1979).
A look at the history of Colorado's Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel
"A lot of sweat, a lot of blood, a lot of tears went into the work of making this tunnel happen and opening it up in 1973 and also, keeping it going through all these 50 years. And many, many more years to come," she said.
CDOT has a 10-Year Vision Plan that provides a statewide list of prioritized projects. About $50 million was invested to repair EJMT's aging infrastructure through major construction projects that started in the summer of 2022. New funding will bring in another $100 million to help with tunnel-related projects.
Here are some of the recently completed and upcoming projects at the EJMT.
The first of four outlined projects was completed last November. This one focused on replacing and repairing grout beds that support the north tunnel's walls.
The project also looked at the north tunnel's wall panels and steel hangars, which are the brackets used to keep the top of the panels from falling forward. Ice buildup can shift the panels, according to CDOT. Through the project, officials were able to inspect each panel and hangar, and replace those that were damaged.
The repair process spanned four months and cost $2 million.
Drainage, plumbing and heat trace
The longest and most expensive of the four projects focuses on the tunnel's drainage, plumbing and heat trace (DPHT). This project began last fall and is expected to wrap up in fall 2024. It is estimated to cost $27.7 million.
When it comes to repairs, CDOT will remove and replace the tunnel's existing heat tape, which is an insulated electric line that uses heat to keep water from freezing inside pipes. However, the department won't stop there.
Under the project, CDOT will add more heat tape to the exterior roof drains, along with controls, which turn on the heat tape and monitor the lines. These controls will be programmed into a new monitoring system.
READ MORE: From how it got its name to who drove through it first, here are some fun facts about the Eisenhower Tunnel
The department is looking into adding heat tape to the tunnel's collection system and seep mains in order to prevent freezing.
Crews will upgrade the water treatment plant, as well as add new fire hose connections through each tunnel to provide better access for first responders.
CDOT expects overnight single-lane closures and possible full bore closures. Crews would alternate traffic through the other tunnel bore in this scenario.
Click here for more details on this project.
Structural liner in tunnel walls
Colorado engineers are always battling water, especially in the winter and spring. Freezing, and eventual thawing, can wreak havoc on infrastructure.
This third project focuses on repairing the plenum liner, which is the structural liner within the tunnel walls, to mitigate water intrusion, according to CDOT.
The project will begin this spring and continue into late fall. It is expected to cost $15 million.
CDOT said it expects this will have minimal impact on traffic with potential single-lane closures overnight.
Service area repairs
Come the warmer months, many of us look to change and update the façade of our homes. CDOT has the same idea and aims to freshen up the service areas, or the entryways, to the tunnels.
CDOT plans to replace fire extinguisher cabinets, install a new de-icing system and repair the loop road and parking areas around the tunnel for maintenance crews and first responders.
Other items, including the entryway's brick, guardrail and asphalt, will also see a refresh.
The project will begin this summer and continue through the fall. It is expected to cost $5 million.
Drivers should not see any impacts to traffic during this project. There may be some single-lane overnight closures.
CDOT has plans for minor repairs, including replacing several of the overhead message boards and cameras in the tunnel for monitoring traffic flow and any crashes. Crews also will repair the roof of the tunnels.
A new CDOT maintenance shed will be constructed on the Summit County side of the tunnel.
READ MORE: 'We’re like our own little city up here’: Inside the hidden control room atop the Eisenhower Tunnel
To ensure the drivers' safety, the department performs biannual tunnel inspections.