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Traffic nightmare at Air Force Academy Stadium Series game: Could it have been prevented?

AFA flyover with traffic jam
Photo from a USAF flyover at the NHL Stadium Series game; Feb. 15, 2020

US AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (KRDO) -- The NHL Stadium Series game became a logistical disaster for the thousands of people who were stuck along Interstate 25 -- and some connecting roads -- for hours on Saturday; so how could it have been planned better?

We reported the initial traffic jams and the aftermath on Saturday following the Colorado Avalanche's 3-1 loss to the LA Kings. Many people who had tickets to the game missed large portions of it due to massive traffic backups on I-25.

See for yourself -- courtesy of a flyover from the U.S. Air Force -- and note the miles-long stretches of red and yellow lights.

A spokesman with the Colorado State Patrol said the troopers on duty in that area during the game were not working Monday and were unavailable for comment.

"This is also the federal holiday for Presidents Day and many offices are closed," the spokesman said.

KRDO NewsChannel 13 left messages with the Air Force Academy, which was responsible for traffic control in and out of the AFA, and with the National Hockey League; neither responded Monday.

But in a joint release issued Sunday, the AFA and the NHL mentioned crashes in the I-25 "Gap," and emergency pothole repairs there, as contributing factors in the traffic congestion.

In response, the Colorado Department of Transportation released a statement Monday that contained a timeline for the Gap situation Saturday afternoon before the game and contradicted part of the AFA and NHL release.

According to CDOT, crashes in the southbound lanes of the Gap were too far apart -- and the pothole repairs too brief -- to significantly affect hockey game traffic.

CDOT's release further explained that the agency had no plans to temporarily close lanes for repairs until several large potholes developed suddenly and created an emergency situation that became a safety issue for drivers.

The release also stated that no northbound lanes were closed for repairs after the game.

Among the many drivers affected by the traffic congestion was Mark Pimentel, KRDO NewsChannel 13's general manager, who spoke strictly as a hockey fan.

"It took me three hours to travel seven miles waiting in traffic at Northgate and Voyager, find a parking lot along the road and walk to my seat at the stadium," he said. "I spent more than $600 for three people to go to that game and we saw basically half of it. Pretty frustrating."

Pimentel said traffic was only part of the problem.

"There were long lines for restrooms, beer and food," he said. "Three people fell in the security check line because it was nothing but a sheet of ice. At least (the AFA) stopped collecting the $30 parking fee, I appreciated that. But the parking lots weren't well-lighted."

Pimentel said there appeared to be no one actually directing traffic before and after the game -- a situation he said he's also seen during AFA football games.

"People got so frustrated, they were almost crashing into each other," he said. "I don't think the traffic jam was because people left too late. I felt that I left early because I was close to the stadium two hours before the game."

Pimentel believes the NHL should give ticket refunds to any spectator who can document missing part of the game because of traffic.

"I think the AFA is responsible," he said. "I don't think they've figured it out. I live in town and it took me three hours to get in and almost three hours to get home."

Some spectators also complained that they were unable to get rides home via Lyft and Uber because the pickup location apparently was changed without notice.

"We left early and our driver called and said no rideshares were allowed in," said Audrey Bargas. "I managed to get one but there were tons of people waiting for rides. I saw an officer who told me the fastest way out of there was to get arrested. What a joke! Lots of unanswered questions and upset people."

Meanwhile, on Facebook and other social media platforms, many people said they arrived early, beat the traffic and had an enjoyable experience at the game.

But Pimentel said he estimates that a fourth of the more than 40,000 spectators had an unpleasant experience -- one they'd like to forget.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.



  1. I will relate this to the Bomb Cyclone. You knew it was coming and that it would drastically affect travel time. They warned people that this could happen and to plan accordingly. You have seen this happen before with similar events. This is not new to AFA events like graduation, football game and concerts. If you are local and have been here for some time you know this and so you have no excuse.
    Had no issues going in or out (going out was a wait but that is Normal). Arrived early and really enjoyed all the festivities before the game.
    It is not Mile High Stadium or the Pepsi Center. Get over it.

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