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Inches to spare for trucks

Raised height limits could ease Eisenhower delays

Published November 13, 2007 at 12:41 a.m.

A little matter of five inches could make the difference in not stopping traffic up to 16,000 times a year at the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Responding to Colorado's trucking industry and a recent upgrade in lighting and signs that make more room in the twin tunnels that take Interstate 70 under the Continental Divide, CDOT may soon raise the height restriction that prohibits vehicles higher than 13 and a half feet from entering.

Raising it to 13 feet, 11 inches might not seem like much at first glance, but state traffic officials say it might give the extra leeway that truckers need on snowy days, when buildup on trailer roofs can trigger sensors that bring traffic flow to a stop at 11,000 feet.

That would pay dividends for passenger cars and others, which would not be caught in a stoppage caused by trucks that, because of recent revisions to the tunnel ceilings, can make it through safely.

Signs and ceiling lights in the tunnel were recently raised, making the additional vehicle height safe.

"It's a major step forward," said Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents the trucking industry. The raised height limit, along with expanded chain-up areas for trucks and other measures taken by the state, may help lower the frequency of I-70 winter tie-ups and closures.

The east and west approaches to the tunnel are equipped with sensors that shoot a beam across the highway at 13 feet six inches. Any vehicle that breaks the beam sets off a siren and red lights, forcing all traffic to come to a stop so the overheight vehicle can pull out of traffic.

Because standard trailer height is 13 feet, 6 inches, the sirens are frequently triggered in bad weather when snow or ice builds up on the roofs of their trailers - even though nearly all of them currently can pass through safely.

Truckers must either take Loveland Pass, a more hazardous drive for long trucks, or climb atop their trailers with a shovel and clear the snow.

Trucks equipped with air suspension can also set off the alarm if they are riding high. In that case, letting a little air out can bring the height down.

But in both cases, traffic was forced to stop first. Many of those stoppages will be eliminated by raising the limit to the additional height the tunnel can now allow.

Jeff Kullman, the Colorado Department of Transportation's director for the region that includes the tunnel, said 20,000 vehicles set off the alarm each year and that CDOT expects 80 percent of those alarms will be eliminated by adjusting the height limit.

The Colorado Transportation Commission will vote Wednesday on raising the limit to see how well it works.

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