Veterans Memorial Tunnels

The Challenge

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) was adding an Express Lane on one of the busiest stretches of eastbound I-70 from the US 40 interchange to east Idaho Springs. This involved widening the east side tunnel of the twin Veterans Memorial Tunnels, just outside of Idaho Springs, in order to accommodate three lanes. The project would be a daily battle of man versus nature, blasting and removing rock, and then fitting a tunnel mold underneath a mountain. 

It also brought unique communication challenges. Residents, commuters and transport companies needed to be kept informed of the blasting schedule as well as the construction timeline. 

Adding to the timeline, CDOT recognized a great opportunity for cost savings to expand the westbound tunnel after they completed the eastbound tunnel, given that equipment and teams were already on the ground. But, unlike the eastbound side, there was no third lane on the westbound side. CIG countered the public’s objection to more traffic delays and recreation disruptions for more blasting and construction by emphasizing how the new tunnel would be bigger, wider, safer and more inviting.

The project would be a daily battle of man versus nature, blasting and removing rock, and then fitting a tunnel mold underneath a mountain. 

Our Solution

CIG had to take the diverse and dispersed target audiences, the urgency of a tight construction timeline, and public scrutiny over the expense of the project into account in its execution of a two-year public information program that encompassed both the eastbound and westbound tunnel bore expansions.

CIG conceived a multifaceted communications plan to reach the many different groups of people who pass through the tunnels — residents of Idaho Springs, Clear Creek County and other surrounding counties, commuters, vacationers, weekend warriors and others. The team combined grassroots communications via town hall meetings and mass outreach via media relations, and everything in between, to keep travelers and residents alike apprised of major construction milestones and the timeline overall.

To reach the wide range of stakeholders who travel the I-70 mountain corridor on a regular basis, CIG organized telephone town hall phone calls prior to each tunnel expansion phase. Before the eastbound tunnel widening began, 2,500 people participated in the town hall call in March 2013. A year later, more than 1,500 people participated on the call to discuss the westbound tunnel widening.

In addition, CIG established a direct line of communication with members of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association through email updates to ensure that truckers were among the first to receive information about blasting and other tunnel construction events.

people participated in the town hall call

Photos courtesy of CDOT

The Results

CIG kept the public information campaign tightly aligned with on-the-ground action by staying in close contact with the contractor and CDOT throughout the two years of construction. Residents in Clear Creek County received information about everything that was going on and were always the first to know about construction plans and timelines. Through proactive and consistent media outreach, the project generated a steady drumbeat of news coverage to inform and educate Coloradans and visitors alike.  

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