Hassan on the right path for I-70 | SummitDaily.com

Hassan on the right path for I-70

Bob Leilich

I read with great interest House District 56 representative candidate Ali Hassan’s letter to the Summit Daily News on May 28 supporting High Speed Rail in the I-70 corridor in order to reduce growing traffic congestion and provide a transportation alternative.

Though a strong supporter of Sen. Dan Gibbs, I am dismayed by his lack of support for a $5 transportation infrastructure improvement tol on I-70, believing it would have a “crippling effect on our mountain economy.”

These two positions clearly highlight differences of opinion to resolve a clear need for more transportation capacity in the I-70 corridor (and similarly for our front range friends in the I-25 corridor).

Studies are underway by the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority (RMRA) and the I-70 Coalition to look at the merits of rail which, having devoted a 42-year career in examining rail service potentials, I believe offers the best opportunity in these two Interstate corridors.

I am confident that these studies will support rail for the following reasons: 1) Rail is the least cost capital solution to provide the equivalent transportation capacity of expanding an Interstate highway; 2) A double track rail line can provide more than twice the capacity of two additional interstate lanes; 3) Rail is far more insensitive to and more tolerant of adverse weather conditions that frequently plague I-70; 4) Rail is among the safest modes of travel ” far safer than the highway; 5) The use of electric powered trains (perhaps using renewable sources) can be far more environmentally and carbon friendly, particularly since regenerative braking on downgrades can help power trains on the upgrade; 6) A properly designed system can handle freight as well as passengers; and, 7) Construction of rail will not produce long-term construction traffic tie-ups on already capacity constrained interstate highways.

The Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation (Blue Ribbon) Panel submitted a thorough, well-done report to Governor Ritter in January 2008 that should be required reading by everyone concerned about Colorado’s growing transportation crisis (and, for that matter, elsewhere in the US). The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission’s “Transportation for Tomorrow ” report estimated annual U.S. funding needs of $225 to $340 billion ” roughly equal to what we are spending on Iraq ” for infrastructure repair and expansion. We are currently spending less than 40 percent of that amount.

The source of these desperately needed funds can only come from each of us in one way or another ” higher gas taxes, tolls on highway usage, higher sales taxes, etc.

In the absence of paying for repairs and additional infrastructure we are going to pay the same ” if not more ” for doing nothing. This cost will be in the form of wasted gas and time in traffic, more accidents, less travel (to mountain communities), etc.

While I do not agree with Sen. Gibbs belief that tolls on I-70 will cause a crippling effect on our mountain economy (especially in comparison to $4-plus gas), it highlights a need to more thoroughly plan how to raise the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommended additional $1.5 billion needed to repair and expand our state’s aging transportation infrastructure. This works out to be about $320 per year per Colorado resident, or $1,280 for a family of four.

To put it in perspective, it is $.87 per day per person ” less than the cost of a cup of coffee. At $4 per gallon, 18 gallons to the mile, a family driving 15,000 miles a year will now spend $3,300 just for gasoline.

Western Europe, Japan, China, and now even India, Argentina and Brazil recognize the merits of High Speed Rail as a solution to adding transportation in high traffic corridors. The time has arrived for Coloradoans to begin an action plan – one that best meets future transportation infrastructure needs and provides for the funding to get there.

Studies by the Blue Ribbon Panel, the RMRA, and the I-70 Coalition represent a start, but without the full support of elected officials at all levels of local and state government, solutions will only be delayed at higher future costs. It is not something we can put off or ignore any longer.

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