Hockey fans face major traffic to and from Stadium Series game at the Air Force Academy for Avalanche game

Some of the traffic on I-25 that caused major problems for people going to and from the game...
Some of the traffic on I-25 that caused major problems for people going to and from the game on Saturday. (KKTV)
Published: Feb. 16, 2020 at 10:50 PM MST
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The Avalanche fell 3-1 to the Los Angeles Kings Saturday, but that wasn't the most frustrating part of Saturday's game for fans.




In phone calls to our newsroom, in tweets, in Facebook comments: What people were talking about Sunday was the horrific traffic on I-25 both before and after the game, which was held at Falcon Stadium on the Air Force Academy.

"Leaving the game was crazy," Christina Lopez told 11 News. "There was nobody directing traffic, and it took us an hour and 15 minutes to go 3 miles."

"We ordered an Uber and everything, and it took two hours to go about 7 miles," said Sierra Kennedy. "The traffic was insane."

Some people commented on our 11 News Facebook page that the traffic was to be expected at such a large-scale sporting event as the NHL's Stadium Series. But others told us that the traffic far exceeded normal traffic for a big event.

Many people said they missed parts of the game because they were still caught in a line on I-25 at the 6 o'clock puck drop. The Air Force Academy shared a video of F-16s flying over the stadium at start time, and in the background, one can see fans who were supposed to be sitting in the stands sitting on the interstate instead.

Others said it was smooth sailing -- all the way up until they realized they were stranded because their Uber wasn't picking them up. That left a surprising number of people trying to walk off base, including a group 11 News sports reporters Taylor Kilgore and Richie Cozzolino gave a ride to. They weren't the only ones to do so.

"We had a group of folks trying to walk off base; we told them to jump in the bed of the truck and took them over the interstate to the Econo Lodge," Cam Hammitt wrote on our 11 News Facebook page. "Probably a two-hour drive."

11 News reached out to both the Air Force Academy and CDOT to find out what caused the incredible traffic tangle Saturday.

Based on conversations with both, it appears to have been a perfect storm of factors.

For starters, the game attracted more than 40,000 people, all trying to squeeze through the academy's two entrances.

Then there's the reality of limited routes to the AFA if coming from north of the Springs, which many of the 40,000+ fans certainly were.

On top of that, CDOT acknowledged they decided to do last-minute emergency pothole repairs along the I-25 "Gap," that 18-mile stretch of interstate -- and main artery between Denver and the academy -- that spans from Castle Rock to Monument. Those repairs began at 2:30, right around the time many were making the trip to the game.

CDOT cited safety concerns when asked why they chose that time to do the repairs. A spokesperson told 11 News reporter Megan Hiler that they feared someone would swerve to avoid a pothole and cause a crash, which would have shut down the entire highway rather than one lane.

Following the game, repairs were done but traffic woes continued. The academy tells 11 News one reason it was so hard for fans to get off base was because at some point after the game one of the two exits had to be closed for a

The academy has released limited information on the death but did confirm to 11 News the investigation shut down the north gate Saturday night all the way until visitor hours resumed at 9 Sunday morning.

11 News also asked about rumors circulating that ride-sharing companies weren't allowed on base. The spokesperson said that the academy never barred ride-share vehicles from the base; they had pre-planned for a lot of people using Ubers and Lyfts and had set up a special designated area to try to reduce traffic.

The spokesperson said the reason why so many rides failed that night may have been because with so many people in one place using their phones, it may have clogged up the cell towers and caused service interruption, possibly leading to people not being able to get through to Uber on their phones or drivers not being able to confirm rides with customers. She told 11 News this was just speculation.

The academy released a statement Sunday evening addressing the complaints:

Multiple efforts were made by the NHL and Air Force Academy to warn attendees about potential traffic delays getting to the sold-out Stadium Series game yesterday. In addition to website and social media posts, and signage along the I-25 corridor in the week leading up to the game, the NHL alerted the more than 43,000 fans who had purchased tickets about the need to allow plenty of time in traveling to Falcon Stadium on game day. As well, in the week leading up to the game, the NHL through numerous media interviews reminded fans about the need to plan their travel based on anticipated delays. To mitigate the anticipated traffic congestion, the Academy opened at 5:30 a.m. and eliminated vehicle ID checks at 12:30 p.m. -- five and half hours before the game. We thank the many fans who took advantage of that window to arrive well in advance and enjoy the Fan Fest activities that started at 1 p.m. Because of this early planning, the vast majority of fans were able to get to the stadium prior to the puck drop and had an amazing experience at the game. Unfortunately, several factors the day of the game came together to cause even greater than expected traffic delays. Unlike many large sports venues, all traffic into the two gates at the Air Force Academy comes from one interstate. In the hours leading up to the game, there were numerous road condition changes and unforeseen events including multiple lane closures in both the northbound and southbound lanes of I-25, emergency pothole repairs that forced further lane closures, and multiple vehicle accidents between Castle Rock and Monument. Despite our best efforts, all of these, added to the already challenging traffic conditions along the I-25 corridor, combined and unfortunately impacted some fans traveling to the game. At the conclusion of the game, as we were routing traffic off base, there was a tragic incident at our North Gate that resulted in the death of one of our guests. Outbound traffic was immediately diverted to allow for emergency response crews and investigators to arrive on scene. While the details of that incident are still under investigation, we are devastated by the event and send the deepest condolences to his loved ones. We thank all of the crews who worked to clear traffic from the base despite only having one gate and we appreciate the patience and understanding of everyone impacted. While we regret the unfortunate circumstances experienced by some fans, a near-capacity crowd was in their seats at the start of an exciting night of hockey. We appreciate the efforts of fans who planned ahead and arrived early and most were able to enjoy a fantastic evening with multiple flyovers and musical performances that highlighted the competitive spirit of the NHL, the history and culture of the Academy, and the milestone achievements of USA Hockey.

The Colorado Department of Transportation sent out additional details about the pothole repair operations on Monday.

"Anticipating high traffic volumes on I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs due to the NHL Stadium Series game, I-25 South Gap crews were not planning to have lane closures on Saturday, Feb. 15," CDOT wrote in a release. "Around noon on Saturday, Feb. 15, several large potholes opened up along southbound I-25. These potholes were large enough to cause a safety concern and needed to be fixed immediately. Delaying emergency pothole operations could have led to a crash within the I-25 Gap project. Severe crashes within the project have the potential to cause lengthy full closures."

Timeline of the pothole repair operations via CDOT:

-12:22 p.m. – CDOT notifies I-25 South Gap crews of several new potholes along southbound I-25 at MP 162 (one mile south of County Line Road). CDOT directs Kraemer that they need to be fixed ASAP -12:32 p.m. – Kraemer repair crews begin mobilizing to gather materials and meet traffic control crews at the staging location at the northbound rest area -12:32 p.m. – South Gap Courtesy Patrol arrives at the pothole location to assist -1:31 p.m. – Repair crews and traffic control teams depart staging area to the pothole location -1:50 p.m. – South Gap communications team sends text alert to more than 3,000 subscribers about pothole work -Text reads: SOUTH GAP: Day & night lane closures NB and SB I-25 for emergency pothole work. Construction on Frontage Rds. Stay on I-25. for travel times. -1:54 p.m. – South Gap communications team calls Denver and Colorado Springs media about the pothole work and need for fans to leave early and expect delays -2 p.m. – South Gap communications team posts to South Gap Facebook page about emergency pothole repairs: -TRAFFIC UPDATE: Daytime and nighttime mobile lane closures, both directions of I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock for emergency pothole repair. Expect delays. Increased traffic is expected due to the Colorado Avalanche game at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs. Please note that there is construction on the frontage roads, so stay the course on I-25. Use for up-to-date travel information. -2 p.m. – Repair crew arrives at the pothole location and begins roadway repairs -2:43 p.m. - Pothole repairs are complete, and the repair crew and traffic control teams depart southbound I-25. Crews impacted daytime traffic for less than one hour -8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. – Night crews work on SB I-25. No NB lane closures occurred overnight on Saturday and Sunday. NO pothole operations were being conducted in the northbound lanes on the evening of Saturday, February 15

CDOT then provided several "Key Facts"

-There were potholes in both directions. The worst of them were southbound, so crews focused just on those. When original messaging was released, there was a possibility crews would be performing emergency repair in both directions and the goal was to prepare people for that. NO pothole operations were being done in the northbound lanes on the evening of Saturday, February 15. -There wasn't any planned construction happening Saturday, Feb. 15. The only closures that took place were mobile single lane closures due to potholes. -The southernmost point of the I-25 South Gap Project is mile point 160. The entrance to the Air Force Academy is located off the North Academy Blvd. (mile point 150) exit. Once motorists exit I-25, they are no longer on the state highway system. -At 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, Feb 15, there was a five-vehicle crash, near the northern end of the project. Delays from the crash were separate from the emergency pothole operations. The crash did cause a temporary closure of I-25 and the West Frontage Road, for fire personnel to respond. -It is not possible to divert traffic from southbound onto northbound I-25. There is no connecting pavement, so that could never be an option. -Organizers of events that may impact travel on the state highway system may be required to apply for a special event permit through the Colorado State Patrol -Colorado Department of Transportation does not use taxpayer funding to provide traffic control for sporting events or concerts. -Snow run off and freeze thaw are increasing potholes and is a common problem this time of year. -Mobile pothole operations close a quarter-mile, one lane section of the roadway. Repairs on made in the closed section and once completed, the crews move to the next quarter-mile section.