Craig: I-70 rail option: It’s time
Everyone hates driving on I-70. Though delightfully scenic for a major Interstate, the drive to and from Denver is so regularly clogged with traffic that it can often take upwards of three hours each way. For those of us who live in Summit County, we are fortunate to generally travel in the opposite flow of traffic and can merrily laugh and wave at the thousands of cars stuck in ski traffic on a winter’s day as we head down to Denver for a Broncos game, etc. Still, with CDOT estimating weekend travel will triple by 2035 if nothing is done to alleviate the problem, none of us should be laughing anymore.
Working to remedy the situation, CDOT has drafted a plan for public comment through Nov. 10 (available at http://bit.ly/csRyej). At long last, the plan includes a mass transit option to supplement the highway system: a rail option that would travel from DIA to Summit and Eagle counties. The train would take just over an hour and cost $30 for travel to Keystone or two hours and $40 to Vail. The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority has conducted a study to confirm that the line is, in fact, feasible.
The cost is, at first glance, prohibitive. CDOT estimates the rail line, along with other essential I-70 road improvements would cost a total of $20 billion. A closer examination of the situation, however, reveals that we cannot afford to ignore this rail option, even at this cost.
Tourism is one of the largest industries in Colorado, especially here in the mountains. Longwoods International estimates that 25.9 million overnight visitors spent $8.2 billion in Colorado in 2005, $2.5 billion of that in the mountain resort region. While it is impossible to estimate the decline in tourism that may occur due to I-70 congestion, even a 1 percent decline represents $25 million of lost revenue. As word spreads of the difficulty of accessing Colorado’s ski areas, visitors may choose other options with shorter lines and less traffic. Meanwhile, a convenient rail option straight from the airport to the resort would make Summit and Eagle even more attractive to destination travelers, especially when they could then avoid renting a car altogether and instead enjoy the walkable confines of a town like Breckenridge by foot (thus spending even more money at local shops and restaurants).
This is supported by the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority study that found the train would operate on a positive cost/benefit ratio, meaning that for every dollar of capital and operating costs, the project would create economic benefits greater than one dollar. By providing a reliable transportation option for destination travelers, we could increase Colorado’s share of that. Even better, the study found that even at the absurdly low fares projected earlier (shuttle services are far more costly and can get delayed by weather, etc.), the train would operate on a positive operation ratio, meaning that, unlike highways and local transit systems, the project would not require any government subsidies to cover its cost of operation. The train would literally pay for itself.
As a corollary benefit in the age of environmental consciousness, a rail option carrying hundreds of passengers at a time would be far greener than thousands of individual vehicles pouring exhaust into the air as they idle aimlessly along I-70. What is really at stake here, however, is our own quality of living. None of us moved here to sit in traffic. We moved here to enjoy the great outdoors. Let’s take the fast train to get there.
Steven is a Silverthorne resident, educator, husband and father of two, and vice-president of the Summit County Library Board. He can be reached at: email@example.com
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