SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — CDOT is unveiling a brand-new facility it says will make the Interstate 70 mountain corridor safer for drivers this winter.

“There’s nothing more important than our highway systems,” said John Lorme, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s director of maintenance and operations.

According to Lorme, closures on I-70’s mountain corridor can cost upward of $2 million per hour in economic impact. However, he said maintaining such a unique stretch of roadway presents unique challenges.

“It’s hard to ask a guy or gal to come up here at 3 o’clock in the morning at 30 below zero with the wind blowing as much as it does up here, to pre-trip for 30 minutes outside, and then hop on the road for a 12 and a half hour shift,” he said.

Boosting morale for CDOT tunnel staff

Paramount to building CDOT’s new operations center adjacent to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel, Lorme said, was boosting morale and improving working conditions for the staff.

“They want to feel comfortable and safe and productive, and working in the tunnel, it’s very 1960s,” he said. “It’s pretty hardcore if you work in the tunnel. There’s no creature comforts there.”

The repurposed facility is newly insulated for arctic conditions. In the past, Lorme said water had to be left running constantly to avoid freezing pipes. The center also contains sleeping quarters and a kitchen for crews in cases of extreme weather.

One of the highlights is a control room with digital screens that can access different CDOT cameras. 

“Before, it was a little tiny 13-inch TV, and we had hundreds of them on a stand,” Lorme said.

In addition, CDOT added a maintenance facility that did not exist before. It has a storage bay with enough room to keep six trucks indoors when not in use. In the past, trucks were stored outside in the elements. 

The new building also has an indoor shop where two trucks at a time can be serviced. Previously, mechanical issues had to be addressed and fixed outdoors. For more complex issues, plows would need to be towed to CDOT maintenance garages in Golden or Aurora.

“Now they can pull into these new modern bays,” Lorme said. “Do routine maintenance and keep the plows going more efficiently.”

It also contains an area to wash plows. Previously, trucks could only be washed two to three times per winter season when weather windows allowed the trucks to be driven to the CDOT facility in Golden.

“Our magnesium chloride is corrosive. We have inhibitors that our vendors put in there, but it is what it is. It’s salt and it does get in contact with metal, and if after an extended period of time you don’t clean your vehicles, they’ll rust out,” Lorme said.

CDOT tunnel team fully staffed – finally

According to Lorme, CDOT’s Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel team is fully staffed for the first time in 30 years. He attributes it to enhanced morale from the new facilities.

Lorme also said having a full and happy staff with the tools and resources to work more efficiently makes I-70 safer for everyone.

“The average member of the traveling public won’t have a clue what we’re doing here,” he said. “They won’t even notice stuff. But if their app tells them they’re going to get from their home to Vail in a certain amount of time, we do everything we can to make that possible from here.”

CDOT said it used budget savings from the beginning of the pandemic to repurpose funds to cover the costs of this project.