Colorado is preparing to install an interactive web of cameras, sensors, and weather stations on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon that will assess conditions and change speed limits to improve traffic flow and prevent auto accidents.

Glenwood Canyon Upgrade Aims to Save Lives

There are times when the world changes, when even the ground under your feet will shift. Take, for instance, the iPhone moment in history, when we all began carrying all-in-one devices serving not only as telephones but also as computers, radios, television, GPS trackers, encyclopedias, scrapbooks, and meeting places. The world moves; our lives become different.

In a subtler way, the road under the wheels of western Colorado drivers will be shifting soon. That’s because the pavement is becoming computerized and, with your safety in mind, will change with the weather and traffic conditions.

Fifteen miles of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon will become the Einstein of roadways.

This picturesque road can be hazardous in the best of conditions. The region got reminded of this Sept 11, when, according to a report by Denver’s ABC TV station, Channel 7, an 18-wheeler tipped over, dumping 100 pigs into the roadway.

If it’s sunny and clear, I-70’s road signs will tell you it’s OK to drive 60 mph on this cliff-lined stretch of four-lane asphalt road. If it’s overcast and icy, I-70 will tell you to slow down to 30 mph, a common-sense advisory that could save your life.

Glenwood Canyon Project Set for Completion in 2018

This fall, Colorado Department of Transportation crews will begin installing the technology to add I-70 to the next generation of roadways, the agency said. The project will create an interconnected web of variable speed limit signs, road sensors, cameras, and speed-detection devices at 17 spots in I-70’s Glenwood Canyon corridor. The project should be completed by October 2018.

The work will stretch about 14 miles on eastbound I-70 (mile points 116.91 to 130.93) and about 15 miles on westbound I-70 (from mile point 115.88 to 131.08), which includes the Hanging Lake Tunnel area.

CDOT says the project will:

  • Install three weather stations, which will continually report weather conditions.
  • Install 17 two-sided variable speed limit signs
  • Install 73 ordinary road signs, replace five and remove 38 of the old-fashioned signs altogether.
  • Install nine closed-circuit cameras to monitor conditions continually.
  • Install surface and subsurface sensors.

The system will work autonomously and under the control of human operators, CDOT said. It’s designed to warn drivers of conditions ahead, encourage safer traffic flow and decrease auto accidents in the canyon. The improvements will increase speed limits during good conditions to 60 mph for standard cars, trucks, and motorcycles and 50 mph for heavy vehicles in most of the canyon. It will lower the speed limit during bad weather, when work crews are performing road maintenance, and when police are handling accidents.

A CDOT press release did not say how much the improvements are expected to cost.

Looking Ahead to Smart Cars on Smart Roads

Smart roads are not the end of technology upgrades to prevent car accidents and save lives.

CDOT’s RoadX division and heads of private industry are planning on days when your smart car (think of it as a smartphone that you ride in) communicates directly with the road. Your car, probably fully electric, will interact with other cars on the road to avoid collisions and share the road. You may not even need to touch the steering wheel or the accelerator. Your smart car and the smart roadway will be in charge as long as you want them to be.

RoadX and electronics giant Panasonic are cooperating on plans to develop as much as 90 miles of I-70 into a smart highway with full car-road interactive features. Panasonic recently located a division near Denver International Airport.

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