There aren’t a lot of U.S. roadways more challenging or potentially dangerous than Interstate 70 in Colorado.
The highway tops out beneath the Continental Divide at an elevation of 11,158 feet. After emerging from the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel, it eventually drops both east and west toward Denver and Grand Junction, Colo., respectively. On some stretches along the way, the road becomes so relentlessly steep that trucks lose their brakes to overheating. Add snow, sleet or rain to the mix, and the accidents that result can be deadly.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has struggled with the “I-70 issue” for years, says Bob Fifer, CDOT’s deputy director of operations. But with the help of new technologies, he says, the agency is starting to make significant progress on the problem.
The solution involves using digital tools to build what traffic management professionals call an intelligent transportation system, or ITS. Colorado is an outlier with its avalanche paths and 6 million lane miles of annually plowed roadway, but CDOT is just one of many state and local transportation agencies to recognize the value of ITS.