18 miles: Gap operations center helps keep construction zone moving

Published: Dec. 31, 2019 at 7:39 AM MST
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It can be a headache for people driving to or from Denver: an 18-mile construction zone between Castle Rock and Monument with very few exits.

The Gap is the longest construction zone in the state.

“There’s incidents in all construction zones. This one’s just a long stretch of road, and not many interchanges,” said Jori Ernst, CDOT’s Section 10 Superintendent. “So there could be a 4-5 mile stretch where there’s no interchanges.”

To help mitigate issues that pop up in the Gap, CDOT has an operations center in Castle Rock that monitors the traffic cameras throughout the 18-mile stretch.

“This is the first one of its kind in the state, so it’s more or less a pilot program,” said Jerry Mayo, a traffic operations specialist for the Gap project.

The operations center is manned from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the weekend.

“We’re monitoring traffic to determine if there’s any kind of accidents and incidents on the road. We communicate with the Colorado State Patrol, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the neighboring fire departments via the telephone or the radio so we can get an accurate response to the scene and have a shortest quick clearance time as we can possible,” Mayo said.

The center can also control the electronic message boards along the interstate and the speed limit.

“When we see an accident, an indication of an accident, and even if it’s a single lane closure, we’ll automatically change the [message boards] to allow the motorists to know what’s about to come up on the project and then we will lower them to 50 miles an hour,” Mayo said. “If it’s a weather related event, we’ll drop them down to 45 just to keep the speeds down because of the road conditions.”

The operations center has already seen good results since construction started.

“We’ve already shown data that we’ve collected in the last 6 months that we’ve reduced our response times to accidents,” Mayo said. “We’ve also reduced our quick clearance time from around 40 minutes down to 28 minutes.”

To help clear those crashes quickly, CDOT has two tow trucks that roam the Gap as part of the Courtesy Patrol program.

“These guys are constantly roaming the area throughout the Gap. The whole 18 mile stretch,” Ernst said. “They will hear the radio calls. They’re scanning radios from fire, from police. They can usually respond to those accidents faster than police, faster than emergency responders.”

In addition to clearing crashes, the tow trucks also help people who run out of gas, get a flat tire or stall out in the Gap.

“If something happens within that area, we want trucks to be able to get out there quickly as possible as mitigate that incident as quick as we can,” Ernst said.

If there’s bad weather or more traffic expected on the roads, CDOT can bring in trucks from elsewhere in the state. Across Colorado, CDOT partners with State Farm to provide

, which provide the same resources for drivers that the courtesy patrol trucks do.

“When we know there’s going to be more traffic out there, we can ramp up,” Ernst said. “We can change their hours. If a storm’s going to come in early in the morning, we’ll bring these guys in earlier. Or if it’s going to be a late evening storm, we’ll do the same thing.”

While the CDOT operations center and tow trucks are there to help, Mayo said safety in the Gap really comes down to the drivers.

“Probably the most common when it comes to our accidents on the road is following too close, not obeying the speed limit and distracted drivers,” Mayo said.

Ernst agreed.

“Drivers’ behavior is the most important thing out there,” he said. “Most of these accidents are because people are tailgating each other. So if they can give that space, put your phone down, don’t be distracted by anything, and just focus on the road. That’s going to be key to getting through any construction zone throughout the state safely.”

For the most part, Ernst said the courtesy patrol trucks find people who need a hand. If you find yourself needing help in the Gap, you can call *CSP. Ernst recommends staying in your car until someone comes to you.