Ulteig to Lead Renovations for Colorado’s Iconic Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel
June 3, 2022
Dillon, Colorado – Cutting elegantly through the Rocky Mountains, the world-famous Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel is considered a gateway to Colorado’s famed Summit County ski country. And, it’s a major artery of commerce connecting Denver to all points West. Ulteig is honored to be selected by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to manage several renovation projects throughout the tunnel with a combined cost of more than $25 million.
Originally completed in 1979, the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel is a true modern marvel. It was designed and constructed to create a straighter, safer and faster route from Denver to Summit County along US Interstate 70. This tunnel eliminates the need to take Loveland Pass, a scenic yet treacherous nine-mile route complete with steep cliffs, winding trails and no guard rails.
Running 1.69 miles through the Front Range, The Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel is a dual-bore, four-lane vehicular tunnel that carries passenger cars and heavy-duty trucks over the Continental Divide. With an average elevation of 11,112 feet, it is the highest tunnel in the United States and, when it was constructed, the highest in the world. The tunnel also just happens to run under the Loveland Ski Area – if you take Chair 4, you will literally ski right over the tunnel.
Though maintenance has been consistently performed on the tunnel throughout the past 40 years, an increase in maintenance requirements due to the infrastructure’s age meant that a large-scale renovation was due. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) called upon Ulteig, an industry-leading engineering firm dedicated to modernizing infrastructure in the power, renewables, transportation and water sectors, to take on the task.
“The team is so excited and really just very proud to have been selected to take on this renovation project,” said Bob Smith, P.E., Manager of Construction Services at Ulteig. “Being chosen is a testament to our dedication to technical innovation and detail. It is truly a privilege to have the opportunity to work on a structure of this scope and magnitude.”
Ulteig will lead construction management for the state-funded project, which will require three years to complete, excluding the winter seasons. The Ulteig team will have a nearly permanent presence at the site for the next several years, discretely implementing crucial changes to the Tunnel’s structure and operations while maintaining a steady traffic flow through the mountain. The tunnel experiences a daily average of 33,959 vehicles, according to CDOT.
“This will be an incredibly intricate and technical project, which is what makes it so exciting to work on,” said Smith. “We will have the opportunity to bring our structural expertise to the electrical and geotechnical management of the project, in such a treacherous environment while still maintaining a smooth traffic flow. It is the task of a lifetime, and we are so ready to take it on.”
The upgrades proposed for The Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel can be broken down into four sectors:
● Water Infiltration Prevention – In the winter, snow and ice flow down from the mountain and infiltrate the tunnel through the air ducts, causing large chunks of ice to form on the side of the tunnel. This renovation will seal those pathways so that water and snow runoff is blocked before it reaches driving lanes.
● Verbal Message Sign Repair – Verbal message and lane use signs will be upgraded to match modern-day messaging technology, improving ease of communication to drivers as well as the visual appearance of the signs.
● Wall Panel Repair – Wear and tear on the panels that line the tunnel’s walls, made of concrete and lined with tile, will be repaired through this renovation.
● General Maintenance – The parking lot area will receive general maintenance and upgrades to ensure the location meets modern standards of safety and convenience.
Investing in these upgrades will secure a sound structural environment that will allow for easy flow of traffic through the tunnel for decades to come.
Ulteig Team Equipped with Previous DOT Expertise
In order to meet the demands of the task at hand, Ulteig has assembled a strong team, all equipped with years of experience working with CDOT standards of excellence.
“We have several people on the team that CDOT trusts,” said Smith. “We were able to put together a really strong team, all with master-level structural expertise and extensive experience working alongside CDOT. Many of our team members have decades of experience working on the tunnel itself. My colleague Mike Solomon has worked on the tunnel for more than 30 years. That kind of familiarity will be an invaluable asset as we move through the project.”
Prior to joining the team at Ulteig, Smith himself served as an engineer with CDOT for more than 16 years. For a period, he even worked as a resident engineer with the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel team, which consists of more than 50 CDOT team members who run the tunnel’s control center 24 hours, 365 days a year. Smith’s expertise in tunnels also extends to the Veterans Memorial Tunnel in Idaho Springs, Colorado, which was reconstructed with a budget of $100 million in just 18 months. Smith served as project engineer on that project, too.
That kind of intimate knowledge with tunnel construction, renovation and maintenance affords Smith a bounty of insight that is valued by CDOT.
“The average person who drives through the tunnel might not realize just how complex of a structure it is,” said Smith. “There is actually a water and wastewater treatment plant inside of the structure, and a control center with more than one hundred video cameras watching over traffic to monitor safety. The cumulative value of the tunnel is more than one billion dollars for replacement value.”
Because every organization has their own language, forms and documentation standards, Ulteig’s prior experience in delivering CDOT projects is an incredible asset, granting them familiarity with all of these aspects from the get-go.
“Being selected for this project is a big win for our team,” said Smith. “And I think it shows the confidence that CDOT has in our management, something that we have steadily earned over the past five years. We are privileged to have grown to that point where we are one of their trusted partners.”
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