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Highway idea: To deal with growth, pave Boreas Pass Road

Well, the cat’s out of the bag. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), after a four-year, $20-million study, has decided that we should drill another tunnel through the Continental Divide and widen Interstate 70 to accommodate a doubling in traffic westbound from Denver by 2025.

The study actually posts nine options, but every one requires spending up to $4 billion to widen I-70 in one form or another.

That the CDOT study should conclude that widening I-70 is the only choice should come as no surprise, since CDOT’s job is, in effect, to build highways, so other options wouldn’t have been given much consideration.



Remember the proposal just a year ago to expand the Front Range Regional Transit District (RTD) to include Summit County on the weekends?

The proposal died a deserved death, since at the time the thing was a money grab by a Front Range legislator who wanted to expand RTD’s tax base.



But beneath the money grab was the seed of a good idea. RTD has a fleet of buses which sit idle on the weekend. There is no regular bus service from the Front Range to the ski areas on the weekend.

Wouldn’t it make sense to at least try a bus system to bring people from the Front Range to Frisco on weekends at a nominal cost, nominal in comparison to $4 billion to expand I-70?

The county really must pursue a good transit system for the simple reason that even if I-70 is widened, the county doesn’t have the parking for the current volume of cars.

Parking is one of the top problem areas identified by visitors to Breckenridge, for example ” how’s that town going to accommodate twice as many cars over the coming years?

And why expand I-70? Why not expand Highway 285 from Bailey to Como, then pave Boreas Pass Road? The cost would be dramatically less, since no tunnels would be needed and the road bed’s already in place. The work could be done in a matter of summers, not decades, without disrupting existing traffic flows along I-70.

People would then have a choice of routes to Summit County, and since the route only comes to Summit County, we wouldn’t lose traffic to Vail or Beaver Creek.

That option requires imagination, and a $20-million study just doesn’t buy much imagination. But it does buy scary statistical studies.

The basic premise underlying the need for a new bore through the mountains is the generally accepted forecast that the Front Range population will increase by 45 percent over the next 20 years, and that the population of Summit County will double, growing by a neat 101 percent by 2025 ” double, twice as many people living here, not just visiting the county.

There are 16 traffic lights now between I-70 and Boreas Pass Road; double means 32 coffee slopportunities between Frisco and Breckenridge. And, before you scoff, keep in mind that while CDOT has put a light at the all-important intersection of Highway 9 and Coyne Valley Road, there’s no light at Fairview Boulevard, Gateway Drive, or the hospital entrance on the top of the hill at the Peak One campground near Frisco.

So yes, 32 lights is a very real possibility.

Widening Highway 285 also makes more sense to accommodate a population doubling in part because of the water situation.

If Summit County’s population doubles and the Front Range increases by 45 percent, then we can say goodbye to Dillon Reservoir. The drought of 2002 saw that reservoir drop by a third; a 45 percent increase in population will wipe it out each summer more or less permanently.

In Summit County, water for development is generally only available in the southern part of the county toward Highway 285.

So if you’re looking for a real estate investment, forget about condos at the resorts ” start thinking about the resurgence of Como which will be reborn if for no other reason than the have-nots who’ll work for the haves in a twice-the-size Summit County will need someplace to live.

If you’re interested in the highway options, drop by the Silverthorne or Frisco libraries and do a little reading (only part of the study is available online, so go to the library for the whole story).

If you have a preference among the nine highway options, shoot CDOT and especially the Board of County Commissioners a message, but think seriously about Highway 285 and a transit option involving the RTD from Denver as you enjoy the minimalist 16 stops from Frisco to Breckenridge before looking for a place to park.

Right now, the year 2004, is as good as it gets.

Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at summitindie@yahoo.com.


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