"Like Hyperloop, this, too, is kind of a step into the technology realm," says CDOT spokesperson Amy Ford, "and I think people are intrigued, because it matches how we drive and helps us to be safer and get where we're going more reliably."
Winter often causes significant problems in Glenwood Canyon. In December 2015, for example, we reported about a seven-car crash that involved actor James Woods; afterward, he praised responders via Twitter before adding, "Sorry, I'm rambling. Little concussion." And the following February, we told you about rock slides that caused commuting headaches involving the canyon for well over a week.
In the meantime, CDOT placed some variable speed limit signage along U.S. 36 between Boulder and Interstate 25. "If you watch, you can see new speed limits pop up," Ford points out. "The idea is that we slow traffic down or speed it up depending on the roadway conditions in front of drivers. It's designed to make the roadway safer."
Ford explains the latter like so: "Basically, we're using censors and other visual data as a way of assessing what the right speed should be at any moment. Say there's a crash up ahead and cars are starting to stack up. Before even getting to that point, we'll start pushing the speed limit down so that people aren't coming in at seventy miles per hour and then having to do a hard stop."
If, on the other hand, conditions are ideal, the variable speed limit signs offer a bonus of sorts. Right now, the speed limit through the canyon is fifty miles per hour, but if all is well, Ford confirms, "the limit will be pushed up to sixty miles per hour for passenger vehicles and fifty for heavy vehicles. Whatever the conditions are, we can adjust things to the safest scenario."
The project is expected to be put out for bid next month, with construction scheduled to get underway in June and continue (after a winter break) through the fall of 2019. Once all the signage is in place, "we need people to work with us," Ford stresses. "If the speed limit says forty miles per hour, we highly encourage you to drive forty miles per hour. We have to continue to do good education with the public, because instead of wondering, 'Why did it drop all of a sudden?,' they'll realize there's a reason."
And probably not a very happy one.