I-70 debate continues | SummitDaily.com

I-70 debate continues

Christine McManus

SUMMIT COUNTY – The only relief for traffic congestion on Interstate 70 will come from buses, said Keystone/Breckenridge Chief Operating Officer Roger McCarthy in the wake of last week’s 13-hour public input session with the Colorado Department of Transportation.

There’s no money for highway expansion or a monorail, said Summit County Commissioners at their Monday meeting in Breckenridge.

At an economic symposium at Keystone Lodge organized last week by the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, McCarthy offered his thoughts on I-70 congestion.

“We really are not being heard,” said McCarthy, who has visited resorts with train and bus services in Austria and Canada. “Our best solution now is to get a free bus system up from Denver and the airport and to create communities where pedestrians don’t need vehicles.”

McCarthy said that even in Europe where train travel is more common, only 10 percent of the skiers arrive by train at one particular Austrian resort. Bus traffic fills the two-lane Austrian highway up to the resort. McCarthy said 40-60 buses bring travelers up to Whistler ski resort in British Columbia.

“But people here are emotionally attached to their cars,” said County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom. “Skiing and snowboarding are such social sports. Can you imagine skiing the day with someone then saying, “Oh I’ve got to go catch my bus?'”

County Commissioner Bill Wallace said he thinks an expansion or monorail would “not be built in this lifetime.”

To raise enough money for substantial congestion relief, Wallace said the state could increase vehicle registration fees, gasoline taxes and add highway tolls.

Lindstrom said the main message he got from the 13-hour I-70 forum last week was one that passed the buck.

“CDOT basically said nothing would be improved unless we can find the money,” Lindstrom said, referring to the multiple mountain towns and businesses who attended the meeting. “They didn’t say that for the expansion of (I-70 through) Glenwood Springs, which ended up costing $2.8 billion. And they didn’t say that for TRE, the massive I-25 corridor expansion in the works through south Denver.”

The 14-mile highway expansion of I-70 through the winding Glenwood Canyon, 80 miles west of Summit County, took more than a decade to build. The controversial project has won awards for its innovative flow through the deep canyon. TRE will take six years to construct a 12-mile Interstate 25 expansion and light rail line at a cost of $1.7 billion.

“In my 46 years in government, and my nine years as a county commissioner, what (CDOT Director) Tom Norton was saying was backward,” Lindstrom said. “Usually they show the need for an expansion, plan it, estimate the cost and then look for funding.”

That is what CDOT is doing, said CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. By the end of October, CDOT will have a shorter list of alternatives for longterm congestion relief.

“Everyone has their own idea of what needs to be done on I-70 for their community. Some people want only transit added, some say focus on the highway, others say make buses a priority,” Stegman said. “We’re still two years away from releasing a preliminary environmental impact statement. By law we must go through these studies in order to get clearance.”

The I-70 corridor is on CDOT’s “high-priority” list, Stegman said. But high-priority projects are suffering with CDOT’s revenue crunch from more than $1 billion annually a couple years ago down to less than $800 million this year, she said. While the missing $300 million in sales-tax revenue was earmarked for high-priority projects, Stegman said, “other projects” and maintenance around the state gobble up the $800 million CDOT budget.

Colorado voters three years ago voted to bond out $1.7 billion for 28 highway projects statewide for a total repayment cost of $2.3 billion in the next 20 years, Stegman said. While $795 million of the bond money went to TRE in Denver, numerous other projects across the state are using that voter-approved bond money.

For example, the difficult Snowmass Canyon four-laning of Highway 82 will receive $100 million, half of its $200 million price tag, from the bond money. Projects on Berthoud Pass, in Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Jefferson County’s Highway 285 and many other areas received bond money, Stegman said.

Christine McManus can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or cmcmanus@summitdaily.com.

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