Scaled to Fit: Keeping Communities Informed about Critical Improvements to Colorado’s First Mountain Tunnels

Veterans Memorial Tunnels

Before making the most of adding an Express Lane on the busiest stretch of eastbound I-70 from the US 40 interchange to east Idaho Springs, CDOT would have to expand the tunnel bore to accommodate three lanes.

The project, a daily battle of man versus nature, defined by considerable physical tasks — blasting and removing rock, then fitting a tunnel mold into a scraggly hole — also brought with it unique communication challenges.

CIG took factors like 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.

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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.

Near the end of work on the eastbound tunnel, CDOT recognized a great opportunity for cost savings given that equipment and teams already on the ground. The agency decided to move forward with expansion and improvements on the westbound tunnel. But, unlike the eastbound portion, there was no third lane on the other 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.

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.

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.

Residents were always the first to know about construction plans and timelines.

Even the most carefully laid plans can change. 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 — in advance.