Michael Penny: I-70 Coalition Update
August 19, 2009
You can see some of the Federal stimulus dollars at work on Highway 9, I-70, and the Summit County Maintenance shop, but what else is happening on I-70? Well, the I-70 Coalition and our members have been continuing to stay busy over the last several months. Much of the early part of the year was spent working on legislation to ensure an ongoing and stable funding source for transportation financing. A reliable statewide funding stream is necessary for anything to happen on I-70.
Many of the I-70 members are also involved in the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority (RMRA) which is nearing completion of a study showing that it is feasible to develop a high speed rail solution between DIA and the Eagle County Airport, as well as from Fort Collins to Pueblo. This was a very high level study, but one which will ultimately tie in with the I-70 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. For those of you wondering about costs, we’re talking in the neighborhood of $15 billion for the DIA to Eagle County Airport route and more than $5 billion for the north-south route.
Several of our members have been working with the Colorado Department of Transportation to develop the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. We hope to gain final approval on the PEIS by the Federal Government in 2011. Many of you are aware that the environment processes necessary to complete any major improvements along the corridor are extremely time consuming and costly. Beyond the final PEIS, the National Environmental Protection Act will require what are called Tier 2 studies for those projects along the corridor which are proposed for substantive improvements or changes. This means, while we may not like to hear it, many more years of studies. It is estimated the soonest we could really see substantive highway improvements moving forward is 2015 and any high speed rail solution would be around 2020. The hope is all the studies and debates will result in the best solution long-term for the Interstate corridor as well as for our local communities.
To that end, in 2010 the I-70 Coalition will begin to cull relevant documents for data which will allow the local communities to discus how to deal with the impacts of greater capacity within the corridor (regardless of how that capacity is created). Knowing how many additional people may be able to access Summit County on a daily basis with either a high-speed train solution or additional lanes is necessary for the communities and elected officials to determine what the social, economic and environmental issues may be, as well as what infrastructure and other legislative changes may be necessary to address those impacts.
Also on the 2010 work plan for the I-70 Coalition is to continue to push for funding for improvements along the corridor. It is clear that highway improvements will come first, both from a financial ability standpoint as well as environmental reviews. Locally, this means we’re looking for funding for projects like Highway 9 widening and the Silverthorne Interchange project. We’re also keeping our eyes on the big prize of the Federal Reauthorization for Transportation Financing and following anything the state might evaluate for I-70, such as tolling. 2010 is an election year, therefore we don’t expect much to happen with transportation financing or legislation under the dome. Regardless of the political landscape, it is clear to everyone that you can have the best laid plans, but without funding, they sit on the shelf. We are committed to not spending public funds completing studies which collect dust.
The last major public component of the 2010 work plan is actually our most focused, and we believe, most compelling given the years of NEPA work still ahead of us. Travel Demand Management (TDM) is going to be our prime focal point for 2010. The Coalition is currently working on a “one-stop” website which will provide information from a large number of other sites ranging from CDOT to the ski resorts. Our goal is to provide information to corridor users so that they may make informed and education decisions about their travel. We hope to be able to push this data to the users of the I-70 corridor using phone numbers and GPS data. Imagine having live weather, road conditions, road speeds, and slope conditions downloaded to your PDA automatically on one easy-to-understand site based upon your actual location. Right now the technology is still under development, and laws don’t allow us to do everything we desire, but ultimately, you might be able to get specific data pushed to you based upon your GPS location. This could lead to ski towns and resorts offering incentives and deals for those willing to stay a bit later and eating or staying overnight. It could allow local restaurants to notify those nearing their establishments of deals or menu lists.
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TDM does not, however, stop with information and education, it also requires changes in alternatives and behavior to impact congestion on the corridor. Other project the Coalition is looking into are a compilation of all the TDM opportunities available along the corridor from van pooling and car sharing to special incentives to use multi-passenger vehicles and avoiding peak travel times on I-70. The Coalition will continue its focus on CDOT and State Patrol enforcement programs like requiring truck chain-up during winter season. The Coalition will also be exploring other programs to encourage I-70 travelers to utilize transit type options instead of single occupancy vehicles particularly during peak winter and summer travel times.
Frisco Town Manager Michael Penny is chair of the I-70 coalition.