More Passes, More Potholes: Colorado’s Damaged Roads

Aunika Skogen | | BrainsBrains
I70 Gateway to the Rockies
I-70 View of the Divide; image: @i70things on Instagram

Colorado roads are known as some of the worst stretches of highway. After all the traffic Interstate 70 — the Gateway to the Rockies and many Colorado ski resorts — has faced this past season, the damage is being exposed. 

Colorado’s mountain roads have been put through the wringer this past season. With higher traffic rates due to increased tourism and erratic weather, the highways are full of potholes. As the snow begins to melt and the temperatures change, the likelihood of potholes forming grows more and more likely.

Vail Resorts, owner of the Epic Pass, sold over 2.1 million passes this past season, 700,00 more than the 2020-2021 season. Four of Vail’s forty resorts (Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail) reside beside I-70. Similarly, the increasingly popular Ikon Pass has six Colorado destinations. Two of these are directly off I-70 (Arapahoe Basin, Copper), and three others require I-70 to get there from Denver (Aspen Snowmass, Steamboat, Winter Park).

Combining the increasing popularity of multi-resort passes with pent-up demand following the covid-restricted 2020-2021 season meant I-70 saw a significant influx of traffic. Front Range commuters often dealt with hours of traffic to get to their favorite resorts, usually not longer than an hour away.

These past few years, skiing and other winter recreation activities have grown in popularity. As the resorts have become busier, as did Colorado’s roads. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), in 2020, the average monthly amount of cars that passed through the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel was 11,274,606. A monthly average of 12,699,830 Coloradans and tourists passed through the tunnel this past year. That’s over a million more people passing through the tunnel a month.

The consequences of this rapid rise in traffic are obvious when passing through the I-70 corridor. It becomes apparent how much of the road has eroded over the winter season as it warms up. CDOT works around the clock every year to resurface roadways to avoid deadly potholes and formulate plans to decrease traffic. 

Proper maintenance of Colorado roads throughout the ski season is essential. Especially on I-70; otherwise, it would be even more hazardous than it currently is. 

I70 Pothole
Massive Pothole on I-70 at the Bottom of Floyd Hill; image: @csp_golden on Twitter
Pothole in the Road
Pothole on I-70 Bridge Over Clear Creek with Clear Creek Gushing Below; image: @csp_golden on  Twitter

A majority of Colorado ski resorts rely on I-70 remaining passable. It’s the primary access for Colorado’s most popular resorts like Vail, Breckenridge, and even Aspen. However, with skiing becoming increasingly popular, traffic will only worsen. If resorts continue to expand and sell even more passes, will it have an increased effect on I-70’s road conditions?

Colorado allocated over 18 billion dollars in 2020 for consistent maintenance, surface improvements, and reconstruction for specific stretches. In 2019, an ‘Express Lane’ was added from Idaho Springs to Georgetown, just a small section of the continuously plugged gateway to Vail. CDOT has plans to further increase lane space with an additional auxiliary lane over Vail Pass, with construction to begin this spring.

Colorado I70 West Road Construction
I-70 West Summer Construction; image:
Colorado I70 Summer Improvements
I-70 East Summer Improvements; image:

Plans to improve and completely redesign the Floyd Hill section of I-70 are currently on the drawing board and expected to begin sometime in 2022. Additionally, crews have also been working on reconstructing the bridge west of the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel since 2021. This project alone is expected to cost between 600-700 million dollars.

There’s no doubt much of the summer in Colorado is spent recovering from ski season and preparing for the next one. CDOT crews spend spring and summer working to fill potholes and redesign the interstate for optimal traffic flow. All while a majority of Colorado Resorts draw up expansion plans and begin next season’s pass sales. 

With so many resorts relying on the function of I-70, wouldn’t it be in the public’s best interest for these corporations to invest in, or at least share, the cost of the taxpayers’ burden for infrastructure improvements themselves? 

Colorado Roads Potholes
I-70 Road Damage, Potholes and Wear and Tear; image: Snowbrains

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