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What's Driving You Crazy: Speeding problem in the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel

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Posted at 4:45 AM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 10:57:07-05

Dave from Glenwood Springs writes, “What's driving you crazy? Why does the state ignore speed limits and the resulting speeding (by passenger vehicle and semi trucks) in the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel? Can you safely ignore the speed limit with impunity or is there a plan to slow it down? Drive through the tunnel(s) and experience the excess speeds and unsafe lane changes (including semis) within the tunnel. Is this not a problem deserving your attention?”

I too have seen the speeding problem first-hand when driving in the tunnel. Not as much as someone like you, who drives through there on a regular basis.

The Colorado State Patrol says they are absolutely concerned about speeding, not just in the tunnels where the speed limit is 50 mph, but all over the state since they know failure to follow speed limits is one of the biggest factors leading to fatal and injury crashes in Colorado. And there is a special danger of a crash inside the tunnel: limited room for first responders, risk of fire, and risk of shutting down the interstate for hours, a day or longer, especially if a large truck is involved.

I talked to CSP Trooper Josh Lewis who told me he appreciates hearing concerns from the public about what and where there are problems so they know where they need to be.

“The Colorado State Patrol uses a data driven method to determine where the highest priority areas are, and we rely on our area commanders to have their troopers more regularly patrol those areas to prevent crashes before they happen," Lewis said. "It also is a reason that the tunnel grade has become an area of focus for dedicated traffic enforcement efforts until the end of the year. These dedicated traffic enforcement efforts entail bringing in troopers on extra shifts.”

Last week, I saw first-hand the increased presence of the state patrol. I saw troopers in three different locations using radar guns looking for speeding drivers. One trooper was just outside the east side of the tunnels watching eastbound traffic.

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Since Late November, CSP’s Motor Carrier Safety Section has been tweeting pictures of their stepped-up enforcement efforts as they pull over speeding truckers along westbound I-70 from the Eisenhower tunnel to Silverthorne. Many times, the picture includes a description of how fast the driver was going. Most times their speed is recorded as 30 mph or more over the posted speed limit of 35 mph for a commercial vehicle over 26,000 Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.

“Speeding and unsafe lane changes have captured our attention everywhere statewide as dangerous behaviors causing crashes everywhere. Knowing where it is specifically happening is beneficial for patrolling and enforcement efforts,” Lewis said.

While it is pretty much impossible for a trooper to set up a traditional speed trap inside the tunnel, there are techniques the state patrol can use to monitor speeding inside the tunnel. Vehicle pacing is when a trooper uses their own vehicle and speedometer to clock the speeds of other drivers. This technique works well to catch speeders when drivers don’t know the trooper is there, but it can also be effective in getting a pod of vehicles to all drive a certain speed.

They could also use a technique called Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder (VASCAR). It calculates speed based on the distance between two points a vehicle traveled. You’ve probably seen thick lines painted horizontally on a highway. When those lines are a couple hundred feet apart, they will allow a calculator to convert the time it takes a vehicle to travel between those two points into mph. The main problem with VASCAR is that there is room for human error unless a laser beam is used to trigger the timer start and stop. Laser start and stops is not recommended in higher traffic flow areas like inside the tunnels.

“While areas like the tunnels can pose some difficulty, enforcement can be and is still done around them. We trust our troopers to utilize their discretion as it relates to where to safely (for everyone) stop vehicles on traffic stops, as well as how to patrol in difficult areas,” Lewis said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation has multiple cameras inside both tunnels, but that information is not currently being used by troopers to solve this problem. The state patrol tells me while cameras can be beneficial, having their patrol cars highly visible to drivers and using enforcement actions like pulling over drivers has, in their opinion, shown to be a better deterrent.

While the state patrol told me they have stepped up enforcement through the end of the year, they didn’t indicate to me if they will continue to keep that increased enforcement into next year or until drivers drive the 50 mph speed limit.

By the way, there is no difference in the ticket or fine for speeding in the tunnel as compared to speeding outside the tunnel.

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 25 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 any podcast app including iTunes , Stitcher , Spotify and Podbean.