Harry Dale: Zipper lane penalizes local travelers
Thanks for writing the article on the zipper lanes. You need to get Summit County residents engaged in thinking about this, because it may affect them more than they realize.
The advertisement for the zipper lane is that it cuts the eastbound trip from Summit County to Denver in half. Wrong! It cuts the 13-mile trip through a portion of Clear Creek County in half. It only saves a few minutes on the overall trip from Summit County to the Denver metro area, and that is on a good day with good weather. Accidents and slick roads will make the trip longer and completely negate the benefit of the zipper lane.
But here is the crucial point that most people are missing in this entire discussion: The zipper lane penalizes corridor residents, while saving a few minutes for return skiers and snowboarders on a good day.
It will be interesting to see how Summit County residents in particular feel about being penalized for the minor benefit of their guests.
Why do I say that the zipper lane penalizes corridor residents, especially in Summit County? This is because the zipper lane will effectively create an artificial peak westbound travel period at a time when there is no such peak period today. It will create an artificial peak period that will have significant consequences to the travel behavior of corridor residents.
Today, many of us who live in the corridor choose to go to metro Denver on weekends to shop, visit relatives or attend the many community, cultural and sports events the Denver area has to offer. We plan our travel to be the exact opposite of the peak ski traffic. We leave in the morning, traveling east when the skiers are coming west and return west in the evening when the skiers are going east.
We have already learned to avoid westbound winter travel on Saturday and Sunday mornings and eastbound winter travel on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. We have simply adjusted our travel behavior accordingly to let the Front Rangers play in traffic while we do something much more productive.
But now enter the zipper lanes. Our weekend counter-peak period travel behavior will be met head-on with an artificial peak travel period. When we are returning from Denver on a winter weekend afternoon, we will be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic to merge into the single westbound lane to allow for the zipper lane to be engaged eastbound. Summit County residents will quickly learn their best option is to simply stay home on weekends in order to avoid the simultaneous eastbound and westbound peak travel periods on Sunday afternoons.
Is it really worth $23 million and the inconvenience to corridor residents? Of course not, but we will have to live it first, before corridor residents will be outraged enough to tell CDOT what a bad idea it is.
Ironically, I think the zipper lane will provide Summit County residents with a similar feeling of sacrifice with Clear Creek County residents. In other words, the benefit of even a few minutes in time savings for Front Range travelers returning from the mountains on a Sunday afternoon appears to be far more important than the inconvenience to corridor residents by creating a simultaneous and artificial peak eastbound and westbound travel period in the corridor on Sunday afternoons.
Worse still, we are now promoting transportation policy in Colorado today that prioritizes improvements for motorists who very clearly make decisions to drive in what they know will be peak period congestion. I-70 mountain corridor eastbound motorists on winter Sunday afternoons clearly understand that they will face peak-period congestion on their way home from the mountains if they choose to travel between 2 and 6 p.m. There is no mystery here. Still they make a deliberate decision to travel during the peak period congestion, and the state makes it a priority to save them a few minutes regardless of the impact to corridor residents. And we will all be paying for the zipper lanes with our gas taxes and registration fees.
The ultimate transportation policy question no one talks about is how much taxpayer money should we spend on Front Range residents who deliberately and freely choose to travel in the mountain corridor during peak periods. No one is forcing them to travel when they know the corridor traffic will be at its worst. For the most part, their peak period winter travel is recreational in nature and the result of a deliberate decision. If you make such a decision, is it the responsibility of Colorado’s taxpayers to solve your congestion problem and reward your bad travel choice?
Clear Creek County resident Harry Dale is a former Clear Creek County Commissioner, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority and a member of the I-70 Coalition.
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