New ‘solar pucks’ light up I-70 for drivers in the mountains

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DENVER -- If you’ve driven eastbound on I-70 out of the mountains, you may have noticed a new type of illumination on the road. The Colorado Department of Transportation is testing out a new pilot program just east of the twin tunnels using solar lights on the interstate. More could be added soon.

Drivers know mountain driving, even without snow, can be difficult.

David Meldrum of Idaho Springs said, “Some people come in here and they’re like, I’ve never drove in the mountains before.” He said that’s hard for him to imagine. He is the driver at Picci’s Pizza. He’s also the former owner. “23 years later we’re still here and delivering pizzas to everyone.” He even drives down the mountain four days a week for his job in Lakewood which is why he likes CDOT’s new pilot solar puck program.

“It’s good for lane recognition and you kind of know where, it’s easier to stay in the lane I think, especially in those "S" Curves because those are kind of bad,” he said.

CDOT installed solar powered lights along a stretch of eastbound I-70 in June 2014 just outside Idaho Springs, about a mile east from the twin tunnels.

“They help delineate the highway right there so people will have an added layer of safety as they travel that windy (sic), curvy and sometimes dark area.”

Now halfway through winter, the pucks seem to be holding up. “We’re making sure they can last through the winter. We put them in an area where we knew they could be a trouble spot in terms of lots of snow and ice and lots of sand and snow removal product.”

If they do, CDOT could install more just outside the Eisenhower tunnel this coming summer.

The solar pucks are about $174 a piece. The total cost of the project was $130,000. Meldrum said it is money well spent, he just has one suggestion. “They should make them so that if people are speeding through there, they flash red maybe.”

CDOT does occasionally have to have maintenance crews wash off the lights so they can harness the sun’s power, but the lights come with a battery backup in case the sun doesn’t come out.

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