An engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation explains why driving conditions were so poor on Highway 94 during Monday's storm, and what can be done to avoid a repeat of the situation.
Gary Heller of CDOT said liquid de-icer, commonly known as magnesium chloride, normally is very effective in preventing ice accumulation on roads and highways. However, he said Highway 94 is one of several where the de-icer isn't used because it's too windy to be effective.
Ice on a 20-mile westbound stretch of the highway from Ellicott to Colorado Springs resulted in bumper-to-bumper traffic for more than two hours during and after evening rush hour.
"In this instance, there probably was not anything that we could have adjusted to do better than what we did, because we put all the available resources we had out there," said Heller.
Heller said a storm that moved through quickly and arrived an hour earlier than expected; a sudden temperature drop that turned wet pavement icy; and additional traffic from an early release by Schriever Air Force Base, were the main factors contributing to the problem. Many area businesses also closed early, further worsening the traffic congestion.
The "perfect storm" of factors, said Heller, delayed the response of sand trucks to provide traction for drivers. It wasn't until 7:30 p.m. Monday that crews were able to spread an anti-skid mixture of sand and salt. Limited resources also played a role, he said, because CDOT has just two crews assigned to a 33-mile stretch of Highway 94.
Heller said he took one crew from U.S. 24 and another from Powers Boulevard to help respond to the icy situation on Highway 94.
"If we learned anything from this storm, it's maybe that we should consider applying anti-skid material before the storm hits and before traffic becomes heavy," he said.