Memorial Day weekend sees lull in Summit County travel, but officials warn of a very busy summer

Cars drive toward the Interstate 70 tunnel on August 10, 2021 in Silverthorne. Officials say the highway saw less travel during the Memorial Day holiday this year than it did in 2021.
Nicole Miller / Summit Daily News archive

Memorial Day marked the start of the summer travel season, and despite gas prices soaring, travelers abroad were on the cusp of what’s expected to be a busy tourist season.

Last weekend, the Colorado Department of Transportation predicted an increase in holiday traffic, but snow, cool weather, rain and cold temperatures dented many of Summit County’s long weekend plans for recreation.

In 2021, more than 166,000 drivers passed through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels on Interstate 70. Traffic peaked Friday, with just over 29,000 cars passing through the west tunnel and about 15,500 passing through the eastbound tunnel. By Monday, May 31, last year’s travel numbers had reversed, with more drivers heading east than west.

This year, nearly 153,000 passengers passed through the tunnels. As in the past year, westbound traffic hit its highest total on Friday, May 27 – with 26,414 drivers – and Friday topped the weekend overall with more than 42,500 drivers. The rest of the weekend remained stable with traffic counts between 36000 and 37000.

A winter blizzard prevented the town of Dillon from holding its annual Memorial Day celebration to honor military personnel who died while on active duty, and snowfall Sunday night and Monday morning resulted in multiple shutdowns of I-70 throughout Summit County due to accidents caused by slick conditions. .

Officials say higher gas prices may also have affected travel plans at the end of last week.

As of Tuesday, May 31, the national average gallon of gas is $4.62, which is 45 cents more than last month, and $1.58 more than a year ago. In Colorado, the current average is $4.27 for regular gas, while last year’s average was $3.12. In Summit County, drivers pay an average of $4.45 per gallon, according to data from AAA.

Colorado ranked the top 10 for the highest weekly gas price increase in the US, tied for the first time with Wisconsin for an 11 cent increase over the past seven days. Despite the increase, Colorado remained outside the top ten most expensive markets.

Lower demand for gasoline kept prices lower ahead of Memorial Day weekend, according to a report from AAABut domestic gas demand may start to rise again as drivers ramp up fuel for the three-month summer travel season.

AAA estimates that nearly 35 million passengers hit the road on Memorial Day, the highest number since 2019, despite record fares at the pump. Last year, 33.4 million drivers and 2.41 million passengers traveled over the weekend. This year also saw a significant increase in the number of travelers who chose buses, trains or cruises – from 440,000 in 2021 to 1.3 million in 2022.

Earlier this year, tourism experts said they expect this summer to be a success. Across the county, sales tax revenue during the ski season increased 20-30% in Summit County communities. In Breckenridge, the jump in sales tax revenue for February jumped about 38% from a year ago.

“So far, the pent-up desire to travel due to the pandemic has outweighed the high pump prices of many consumers,” said Andrew Gross, a spokesperson for AAA. But 67% of the drivers we surveyed told us they would change their driving habits if gasoline hit $4.50 a gallon. That number rises to 75% at $5 a gallon. If pump prices keep going up, will people change their summer travel plans? That remained to be a viewer.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation has mitigated travel issues by halting construction projects intended to improve the highway in order to reduce the traffic impacts for vacation travelers, and the Mountain Express Lane tolls have been waived.

Certain seasonal routes have also been open over the past week and into the weekend as well. These include the Guanella Pass, Independence Pass, Cottonwood Pass, and Kebler Pass. Mount Evans Trail, I-70 Glenwood Canyon Recreational Trail from No Name to Dotsero trailhead and Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park remain closed.

CDOT launched the Pegasus shuttle system — which connects Denver to mountain communities on the West Slope — over Memorial Day weekend in order to reduce some traffic. Each shuttle has a capacity of 11 people with buses running hourly from sunrise to sunset, and Rail and Transportation Division Manager Amber Blake said this will help clear busy highway traffic. Pegasus buses can also use the express lanes on weekends, when traffic almost doubles.

“One fully booked Pegasus shuttle is equivalent to removing six two-person vehicles from the road,” Blake said in a statement. “Double that by a dozen Pegasus trips each weekend, and we can double our role in easing congestion, and helping make driving into the mountains safer and more enjoyable. Moreover, this service is in line with our mission of improving transportation options and integrating transportation into Colorado’s transportation system.” .

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