Commissioner discouraged by prospect of state funding for I-70 improvements
SUMMIT COUNTY – Drivers traveling from Summit County to Denver International Airport spend at least three-and-a-half hours on that stretch of Interstate 70 a minimum of 40 days a year now, according to a Colorado Department of Transportation study. It’s a drive that should take about an hour-and-a-half.
Conditions will get much worse before they get better.
County Commissioner Bill Wallace recently ended a series of meetings in which he and other state officials sought ways to fund improvements to the interstate. He’s not encouraged by what they found. The I-70 finance committee is a subcommittee of the PEIS (programmatic environmental impact study, which is looking at the potential ramifications of different scenarios for improving I-70 from Denver west to Glenwood Springs. The PEIS committee will recommend preferred options. The study is expected to be complete next year.
The findings of the finance committee will be a chapter within the PEIS.
“Under the current funding of the state, there’s not enough money to do anything on I-70,” he said. “If any improvements will be made on I-70, it will take some political will of the leaders and elected officials of the state of Colorado, and probably a vote of the people of Colorado.”
Brian Pinkerton, a CDOT of engineer and chair of the I-70 PEIS finance committee, agrees finding a funding solution for the interstate will be difficult.
“The solutions to I-70 range in cost from approximately $1 billion to $6 billion,” he said. “Under our current funding scenario, what’s going to be available (for I-70) in the next 20 years is somewhere between $250 million to $1 billion.
“A billion is sort of at the high end (of what will be available) and that’s the low end of solutions for I-70. I-70 is a very expensive problem, but there are a lot of traffic problems in Colorado and it has to compete (for funding) with all those,” Pinkerton said.
Those base level improvements, Pinkerton said, include widening the highway in “limited areas,” improving interchanges, adding climbing lanes and smoothing out some curves. Most of those improvements would occur in Clear Creek County, though several interchanges along the whole corridor are due for some attention.
At the other end of the spectrum, the $6 billion slate of improvements includes a third bore at the Eisenhower Tunnel – for a monorail, train or more traffic lanes – widening of the highway throughout Clear Creek County, the above-mentioned spot improvements and a fixed guideway system from Denver to Eagle County.
Pinkerton can’t give a guideline for any of those changes.
“What’s really critical is the money,” he said. “If they give me the money, we’ll rock and roll out there. That’s a lot of money to raise for one corridor in the state, and it would definitely be a project that would be built in phases. The solutions are very expensive and the money is going to be hard to come by.”
But Wallace doesn’t put much stock in the current state administration.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in our government or legislature to really be able to tackle some of the problems that need to be tackled,” he said.
As the state ponders solutions to I-70’s traffic problems, Wallace said the interstate will see increasing days of level-F service.
“By the time they get something done, we will have to pick our trips to Denver very, very carefully because the highway is going to be very, very congested,” he said.
Wallace also is a member of CIFGA (Colorado Intermountain Fixed Guideway Authority), a group created by the state legislature to study a monorail as a possible solution to I-70 congestion. While Colorado voters denied a ballot request last November to spend $50 million in excess state revenue on testing technology and researching costs for the high-speed monorail, CIFGA – and the idea of a monorail – still is alive, if delayed.
“Had that vote passed in November, I think we would have seen a monorail by the year 2010,” Wallace said. “Now, if it were to be built at all, it wouldn’t be until like 2020. I think the monorail was really slick. It would have been huge for Colorado.”
The proposed Colorado monorail would have traveled from Denver International Airport to the Eagle County Regional Airport in Gypsum, stopping approximately every 10 miles.
Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com
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