Congressman Jared Polis toured I-70's Eisenhower Tunnel this morning and voiced his support for the installation of a fire suppression system that would protect this critical transportation route. A recent study by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) revealed that a catastrophic fire that could shut down the tunnel is a possibility and may not be able to be contained without such a system. Polis is working with the Colorado delegation to secure the necessary funding.
"I-70 is an essential economic artery for Eagle and Summit County, Colorado and the region, and the Eisenhower tunnel is critical to its safe operation," said Polis. "If this tunnel were to be shuttered by a catastrophic fire it would cost untold damage to jobs and businesses. With this much on the line, and the cost of a fire so high, a fire suppression system is a smart investment in our transportation infrastructure and our economy."
CDOT's "Fixed Fire Suppression System Study" revealed that a catastrophic fire within the tunnel is a possibility simply from existing freight semi-trailer traffic. The resources currently available and possible emergency response times are unlikely to keep an average vehicle fire from becoming unstoppable and leading to serious structural damage if inside the tunnel. With the cost of replacing each bore of the tunnel approximately $1.5 billion, CDOT's estimate of $20 million to install a Water Mist Fire Suppression System to be around $20 million is a smart investment.
The sheer volume of I-70 traffic makes Loveland Pass an impossible alternate route in the event of a long-term closure of the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnel. Many accidents already happen with freight semi-trailers on Loveland Pass, some carrying hazardous materials. Not only are these vehicles currently forced to go through the tunnel when Loveland Pass is closed, which increases the risk of fire inside the tunnels, the lack of a fire suppression system in the tunnel also sends more semi-trailers over Loveland Pass when it's open.
The Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels stand out as feats of engineering not only in Colorado but nationally as well. However, at the time of their construction in 1979, fire suppression systems were not commonplace and were not required in tunnels. A number of fatal tunnel fires around the world have challenged those conventions, and have led to new construction standards and an increase in mandatory fire suppression systems.