An Earthly Idea: Speak out on Summit County Highway 9 bypass
July 25, 2014
Do you want highway construction to force the Frisco-to-Breckenridge bike path to run along the edge of the highway for two years? Should land that is now dedicated county open space protected by a conservation easement, national forest land and the bike path be used to build a highway? Is a too-expensive, 10-year-old plan really a "no-action alternative" for assessment of a major highway expansion and relocation?
A very brief 30-day comment period has already started on rerouting a section of Highway 9 south of Frisco, between the hospital and the high school. The new four-lane road would be uphill, away from the reservoir and would go through the Iron Springs Conservation Easement and U.S. Forest Service land. The only public hearing will be Tuesday, July 29, from 4:30-6:30 at the Community and Senior Center. Aug. 8 is the last day for public comments.
Perhaps no one fights CDOT. Perhaps Breck skiers do need a four-lane highway to get them to the I-70 gridlock faster. Perhaps the traffic delays from widening other sections of the road suggest that it would be less painful to build a whole new road than work on the existing one. Perhaps county agencies have spent a lot of time studying and negotiating about the relocation and are now happy with it. But this is a major construction project that will have major environmental impacts. It also poses important policy considerations. It deserves a lot more public scrutiny and comment than it is getting.
CDOT didn't exactly post the environmental assessment on the home page of its website. The Summit Daily News article may have just said "available on CDOT's website" because the reporter gave up on finding it. After what seemed like 20 minutes, I did find a PDF link on the CDOT site using an "Iron Springs" search. That search also produced an already released statement of work for construction bids for the "proposed" project. I eventually also found a way to comment online. The assessment is also available at the Frisco and Breck libraries. (Look for this column online for hyperlinks to the webpages mentioned above.)
A little background for those of us who did not grow up selling real estate in Summit County: The highway is where it is now because the original road now lies beneath Dillon Reservoir. The county purchased the Iron Springs parcel for open space from Denver Water. Because a GOCO grant was used to do so, a perpetual conservation easement on the land was given to the Continental Divide Land Trust.
Planning for the Highway 9 widening project started in 1999 and it was approved in 2004. Because the section to be realigned was to be built into the hillside it required large retaining walls. This made it very expensive and funding for the section did not seem to be forthcoming.
Therefore, a few years ago, in hopes of getting funding sooner for a less expensive option, the county suggested moving it up the hill, swapping routes with the bike trail. Instead of reanalyzing all possibilities, CDOT posed the choice as being the new route or the original plan — even if that might never get funded. My way or the highway? The Forest Service went ahead and clear-cut all the trees along the existing bike path.
And that brings us to today. The new route is shorter and claimed to be safer. With underpasses and without large retaining walls, it is also claimed to better accommodate wildlife. Its construction should be less disruptive to highway traffic (at bike path expense). But you need to decide, about both the environmental impacts and the policy implications. Should we abandon "perpetual" conservation easements? Should we be forced to consider a plan only against an old, possibly unworkable, plan instead of looking at all options?
Walk or ride the existing bike path/future highway. Drive the current one. Think about it. Go to the hearing. Speak out about your county and your environment.
Howard Brown lives near Silverthorne. While he has extensive environmental policy analysis experience at the federal, state and local levels, he attributes his expertise to observing and asking questions while enjoying Summit County's beauty.
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