County commissioners prefer I-70 expansion before monorail
BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County commissioners began the new year by having a long chat with state highway officials Monday about Interstate 70 in which they changed their top recommendation to six-laning the highway.
Other topics included tolls on Highway 9, a stoplight for the new hospital, Copper Mountain parking overflow and the lack of cone zones planned in 2004.
County leaders now favor an expansion of I-70 to six lanes. They also favor additional tunnels next to existing tunnels.
But buses for a mass transit option are not a viable alternative and should be taken off the list of preferred options, said Commissioner Gary Lindstrom.
Although the Colorado Department of Transportation took the advanced-guideway rail option off the list, Summit County leaders want it on the preferred list of future improvements to alleviate congestion.
Commissioners will ask town councils and planning commissions to support them in discussions with CDOT.
A rail option was the county’s first-choice project until now. The county commissioners weighed CDOT’s preferences, and they have heard feedback supporting their decision to make I-70 expansion the first priority, Lindstrom said.
CDOT’s Region 1 transportation director, Jeffrey Kullman, asked whether a pending pact between Summit and neighboring counties – sponsored by Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder – would also request that the rail option be listed as a viable alternative.
Counties and towns along I-70 are considering banding in an official capacity to negotiate with CDOT on the I-70 issue.
The pending pact will not solely be for the purpose of advocating a rail option, Lindstrom said.
Commissioner Tom Long noted Kullman’s map, which was distributed at the quarterly meeting, did not extend any options (especially not a rail option) to Denver, much less Denver International Airport.
Since 1995 Summit County has been asking for regional and statewide cooperation on a seamless rail from DIA to Eagle County Airport.
CDOT has said different agencies would handle the mountain and Front Range portions of a railway, if one is ever planned at all.
Kullman said stretching the I-70 map to DIA would erroneously imply that environmental studies were under way east of C-470, or that CDOT was trying to compete with Denver’s Regional Transportation District bus system.
CDOT’s narrowed list of ways to deal with I-70 will be ready for the public eye in April, Kullman said. The final decision of how to reduce I-70 congestion will not be made by CDOT until 2005.
The commissioners also asked Kullman about the surprise toll lane option on Highway 9, which appeared in newspapers last month before any county leaders knew of the proposal.
CDOT’s Doug Aden said administrators mistakenly thought Summit officials were on the contact list.
“When you have limited funds and only two or three ways to pay for highway projects, tolling becomes a more viable option when the taxes aren’t rolling in,” Kullman said.
If toll booths are installed on Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge, they would become permanent to pay for ongoing maintenance and other highway projects, Kullman said. Lindstrom suggested a local taxing district as an alternative to tolls along Highway 9.
As for the hospital stoplight on Highway 9, it probably will require many trees to be cut down for safe views of oncoming traffic.
Copper Mountain wants help from CDOT, Summit County and Frisco, when its parking lots overflow.
On the busiest weekends of the year when Copper Mountain parking lots overflow, Copper wants temporary, flashing signs before I-70 Frisco exits to divert traffic into town.
Copper visitors then would take the free Summit Stage buses to Copper.
Frisco officials might not want the headache of the extra traffic from Copper. But the transit center parking lot behind Safeway and Wal-Mart is rarely full and might accommodate Copper’s overflow traffic, Lindstrom said.
Parking is one of the main concerns county officials have with Copper’s application for expansion.
CDOT hasn’t scheduled many local work projects this summer. To protect water supplies for towns, erosion control on Straight Creek is planned between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Silverthorne.
Plans will be drafted this year for a four-lane expansion and landscaped medians along Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge at a cost of $1.5 million of the $80 million total project cost.
But construction will not start this year on Highway 9.
Christine McManus can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229 or email@example.com.
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