Colorado tests pace cars to combat congestion

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 9/27/2011

The Colorado Department of Transportation and law enforcement rolled out a few pace cars on Sunday, Sept. 25, in an effort to slow traffic, reduce vehicle interactions and improve the gridlock situation at the Eisenhower Tunnel. It was a one-day event, the second of three tests to see whether the program is effective.

The program is called Rolling Speed Harmonization, and it works similar to how a racing pace car keeps drivers in check and moving at a uniform speed. By slowing the overall pace down to 45 to 55 mph from a distance of 27 miles before the tunnel, traffic backups at the tunnel were reduced and vehicles were able to pass through smoothly.

Officials have been looking for alternatives to metering traffic through the tunnel and allowing lengthy backups to occur. The tunnel’s air management system is not equipped to handle large numbers of slow or idling cars, which presents a health hazard.

The agencies declared Sunday’s pacing test a success, and they’ve planned a third test during ski season. If that one succeeds, the program could become a regular thing in 2012. The area can see 50,000 vehicles per day during a peak ski season, according to CDOT.

OOIDA Life Member Jack McComb of Littleton, CO, questions how pace cars would affect truckers, especially when many trucks cannot maintain a 45 mph pace on the hills.

“It would affect me if I was running light or empty,” he said. “I could keep up with that traffic that they’re pacing, but the vast majority of trucks can’t pace those hills at that speed.”

McComb says the real test for the program will come during a busy ski weekend.

“On a Sunday afternoon during ski season, the pace car would have trouble getting in line and they couldn’t slow the traffic down because it isn’t moving at all,” he said.

During the first test, the pace cars merged onto I-70 about 8 miles back from the tunnel. During the second test, the vehicles started from 27 miles back to simulate busier conditions.

The real test is yet to come.

“This past weekend, the traffic was heavier because the trees are turning in the mountains and a lot of people go up there,” said McComb. “But next to a heavy ski season, it was nothing. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes then.”