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Driving You Crazy: Does CDOT have a metering light in Empire to punish Grand County drivers?

Traffic some days is backed up over Berthoud Pass
Posted at 10:22 AM, Feb 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 12:22:31-05

Tim from Empire writes, “What is driving you crazy? Is there reason CDOT has a metering light in Empire Co beside the reason to punish Winter Park and Grand county travelers. Traffic was backed up over the top on Berthoud Pass one Sunday in February and is backed up every other weekend when traffic is flowing freely on I-70. This is sometimes worse in the summer. It took over and hour and a half to travel 23 miles just to get to Empire from Winter Park. Why are they backing up traffic through multiple avalanche and rock slide zone which is a huge safety issue? CDOT really needs to look at this problem. Are the other resorts metered in the same way? What is the point to the over metering in CO, especially US 40? It is not solving the issue. Please let the traffic flow more freely.”


For a long, long time Tim, I stopped going skiing on the weekends mainly because of the insane amount of time I was spending sitting in I-70 or Highway 40 traffic. It was worth it for me to take a day off work to avoid all the traffic. I have since taken a few trips on the weekend and just put up with the delays.

Most drivers have seen ramp metering all over metro Denver. It's a way for the DOT to hold traffic in one area, usually a side road, so traffic can flow better in another, usually an interstate or highway. On Highway 40 in Empire outside Georgetown, the meter lights are designed to hold traffic so the flow on eastbound I-70 doesn’t back up through Georgetown creating a hazard for drivers coming down the hill from Silver Plume.

In metro Denver, most of the metering lights stay red for about 5 to 8 seconds and then turns green for a brief second or two. The lights on Highway 40 however, are much different. They are programed to hold a green light for 240 seconds (4 minutes) followed by 10 seconds of red. That break is designed to creates gaps in the traffic so drivers can have access to roads and businesses in downtown Empire.

“Our signal supervisor has not been able to find a malfunction or other issue from that weekend and the cause of that congestion is still under investigation. We are looking at connecting these signals to our fiber optic network and installing video cameras to enable more effective monitoring but have not identified funds yet,” says CDOT spokesperson Stacia Sellers.  

     MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

While there are numerous avalanche chutes on both sides of Berthoud Pass, CDOT's avalanche team works closely with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to mitigate avalanches and told me they wouldn’t hesitate to close Highway 40 at any time if they believed there was a threat of a slide.

Highway 40 isn’t the only place CDOT has safety metering in the mountains. Routinely CDOT and the State Patrol will hold traffic near the Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnels to help relieve and mitigate the buildup of congestion on I-70, especially eastbound back to Denver.

“While drivers may be stopped an average of 20 minutes with safety metering on I-70, the actual delay is only around 3.5 minutes. This is because eastbound traffic on the other side of the Eisenhower Tunnel is still moving slowly and cars usually quickly catch up with the flow of traffic,” said Sellers.

Just for your information, there are two types of metering on I-70. Continuous-Flow and On-Ramp. Continuous-Flow is used on the approach to the Johnson/Eisenhower Tunnel. An alternating red and green stoplight cycles every four to eight seconds to keep traffic moving consistently through the tunnel. That allows traffic on the tunnel's east side slowly dissipates.

On-Ramp safety metering occurs at eastbound on-ramps at Copper Mountain, Frisco, Silverthorne, Loveland and Empire. This type of metering is the more common that you’ve seen in metro Denver on highway and interstate on-ramps.

As we have all seen around the State, the explosive growth is adding to the already longer than average drive times in Denver and on I-70. CDOT tells me they are always monitoring the traffic flow on I-70, Highway 40 and all the other feeder highways onto I-70 and they assure me they strive to keep traffic flowing as best they can during those peak times. As for me, I think I might go back to taking time off work during the week and skip the I-70 traffic. 

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Podbean