Memorial Day weekend sees a lull in travel to Summit County, but officials warn of a busy summer

Memorial Day weekend sees a lull in travel to Summit County, but officials warn of a busy summer

Vehicles head for the Interstate 70 underpass on August 10, 2021 in Silverthorne. The highway saw fewer trips over Memorial Day weekend this year than in 2021, officials said.
Nicole Miller Archive/Summit Daily News

Memorial Day marked the start of the summer travel season, and despite rising gas prices, travelers were about to begin what is expected to be a busy tourist season.

The Colorado Department of Transportation predicted an increase in traffic this past weekend due to the holidays, but snow, breezes, rain and cold temperatures dampened many long-weekend recreation plans in the Summit County.

In 2021, more than 166,000 drivers passed through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels on Interstate 70. Traffic peaked Friday, with just over 29,000 cars crossing the tunnel westbound and about 15,500 crossing eastbound . On Monday May 31, last year’s travel figures reversed, with more drivers heading east than west.

This year, nearly 153,000 travelers passed through the tunnels. Just like last year, westbound traffic recorded its highest total on Friday May 27 – with 26,414 drivers passing through – and Friday topped the weekend with just over 42,500 drivers. The rest of the weekend was flat with traffic between 36,000 and 37,000.

A winter snowstorm prevented the town of Dillon from holding its annual Memorial Day ceremony to honor service members who died on active duty, and snow Sunday evening and Monday morning led to multiple closures of I-70 in the county of Summit due to accidents caused by slippery conditions.

Officials say high gasoline prices may also have affected travel plans last weekend.

As of Tuesday, May 31, the national average for a gallon of gasoline was $4.62, 45 cents higher than a month ago and $1.58 higher than a year ago. In Colorado, the current average is $4.27 for regular gasoline, while last year’s average was $3.12. In Summit County, drivers pay an average of $4.45 per gallon, according to AAA data.

Colorado ranked in the top 10 for the largest weekly increase in U.S. gasoline prices, tied for first with Wisconsin with an 11-cent increase over the past seven days. Despite this increase, Colorado remained outside the top 10 most expensive markets.

Lower demand kept gasoline prices down ahead of Memorial Day weekend, according to a report by AAAbut domestic gas demand could start to climb again as drivers fill up for the three-month summer season.

AAA estimates nearly 35 million travelers hit the road for Memorial Day, the highest number since 2019, despite record prices at the pumps. Last year, 33.4 million drivers and 2.41 million passengers traveled over the weekend. This year has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of travelers opting for buses, trains or cruises – from 440,000 in 2021 to 1.3 million in 2022.

Earlier this year, tourism experts said they expected this summer to be a success. County-wide, sales tax revenue during ski season has increased by 20-30% in Summit County communities. In Breckenridge, the jump in sales tax revenue in February was up about 38% from a year ago.

“So far, pent-up wanderlust caused by the pandemic has outweighed high prices at the pump for many consumers,” said AAA spokesman Andrew Gross. “But 67% of drivers recently surveyed told us they would change their driving habits if gas reached $4.50 a gallon. That number jumps to 75% at $5 a gallon. If pump prices continue to rise, will people change their summer travel plans? That remains to be seen.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation has worked to ease travel issues by halting work on its construction projects that aim to improve the freeway to minimize traffic effects for vacationers, and tolls on the way west of Mountain Express Lane have been removed.

Some seasonal roads have also been opened over the past week and the weekend as well. These include Guanella Pass, Independence Pass, Cottonwood Pass, and Kebler Pass. Mount Evans Road, the I-70 Glenwood Canyon Recreational Trail from No Name to the Dotsero Trailhead and Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park remain closed.

CDOT launched its Pegasus shuttle system — which connects Denver to mountain communities on the West Rim — over Memorial Day weekend to ease some traffic. Each shuttle can accommodate 11 people with buses running every hour from sunrise to sunset, and the director of the division of public transport and railways, Amber Blake, said it would help eliminate congested traffic on Highway. Pegasus shuttles can also use the express lanes on weekends, when traffic nearly doubles.

“A fully booked Pegasus shuttle is equivalent to taking six two-person vehicles off the road,” Blake said in a statement. “Multiply that by dozens of Pegasus trips every weekend, and we can double our role in easing congestion and helping to make the ride to the mountains safer and more enjoyable.” Additionally, this service aligns with our mission to improve transit options and integrate transit into Colorado’s transportation system.

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