I-70 rail discussions picking up speed
Ryan Summerlin August 1, 2012
It’s the year 2025 and the train Coloradans have been talking about for decades -taking skiers and snowboarders from the Front Range to the mountain resorts – has finally been built. It makes six stops, including two in Summit County and can cover its 55-mile run in less than an hour. That’s the plan, anyway.The Colorado Department of Transportation will pitch the vision to the private industry experts who build trains in the hope of getting an idea of whether or not it will work in Colorado. “That gives us enough information to make a feasibility determination,” CDOT transit and rail program manager David Krutsinger said. “If the answer to the feasibility question is yes, then we go into a three to five years of an (environmental impact statement) process.” Answering the two-part feasibility question is the primary focus of an 18-month study currently underway. The study will determine whether the technology for a high-speed rail that can handle the steep grades and sharp curves of the I-70 mountain corridor even exists, and, if it does, whether Colorado could afford to build it by 2025. To do that, CDOT, local governments along the corridor and other participants have to have a rough idea of what the train would look like. Currently, they’re discussing a rail line that would run between Jefferson and Eagle counties, with one stop in Clear Creek County, two in Summit and two more in Eagle County. “In Summit, that would, very generally, land somewhere between Silverthorne and Frisco and serve the ski areas there,” Krutsinger said. “And probably one (more stop) in the western part of the county, probably at Copper.” Meanwhile, local officials are already talking about connector transit systems that might help riders get from the rail stations to other parts of the county, including a tunnel from Copper to Breckenridge. “Obviously, we’d want some connection,” County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said at a recent work session. Planners want the train ride to take 45-60 minutes, but they also hope, if things continue to move forward, that construction will begin within the next 10 years and that the final price tag will be politically palatable. If the rail turns out not to be viable, it will bring the corridor’s stakeholders back to the table to find a different solution for the ongoing weekend congestion problems on the Interstate. “We can’t do nothing because the traffic problems are too bad and people’s economic growth is hampered if we don’t do anything,” Krutsinger said. “But the flip side of that is nobody wants the corridor to turn into a 10-lane freeway. We don’t want our mountain communities to be completely paved with highways.” The rail planning team expects to know whether the proposed train system is technologically feasible by this fall. The financial questions will likely be answered by the first part of next year.