I-70 toll proposal withdrawn | SummitDaily.com

I-70 toll proposal withdrawn

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” A proposal to charge fees for driving on I-70 during peak times has been withdrawn by State Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, but communities and resorts along the I-70 corridor are looking for other ways to reduce congestion in time for the 2008-2009 ski season.

Romer floated the idea in late January, saying a $5 to $12 fee could reduce traffic by as much as 10 percent. There wasn’t a huge amount of support, with most I-70 stakeholders agreeing that there needs to be a more comprehensive solution.

The I-70 coalition didn’t take a formal position on the plan, but board member Michael Penny said informal discussions showed there was little enthusiasm.

There was appreciation for the fact that a Front Range lawmaker is taking a serious look at the issue, said I-70 coalition director Dr. Flo Raitano.

“That’s where the demand is coming from. That’s where behavior needs to be changed,” Raitano said, referring to efforts to modify travel habits.

Other efforts are under way to reduce congestion measurably in time for the start of the 2008-2009 ski season, Penny said.

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Funded by a $250,000 Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) grant, the I-70 coalition will partner with CDOT and the Denver Regional Council of Governments to encourage car pooling and other forms of mass transit.

A reduction of 500 cars per hour during peak times could give drivers the feeling that there is less congestion, said Peter Kozinski, CDOT resident engineer for the I-70 mountain corridor.

Based on an average vehicle occupancy of two to three people per car, that would mean finding alternative seats for about 1,500 people, Kozinski said.

Intensifying efforts to encourage car- and van-pooling could be among the most immediate and effective steps, Raitano said. That could include a focused effort to make us of car-pool parking areas at the Hogback parking area, she said.

Raitano also said there is a pool of commuter vans along the Front Range that is not used very much on weekends. Those vehicles could potentially be used for mass transit to the mountains, she said.

According to Raitano, the $250,000 CDOT grant will be used partly to hire a TDMt program director charged with implementing those first steps. The plan is to have someone on board by April or May.Raitano praised CDOT for stepping up with the funding.

“This came up about three or four months ago when we talked to CDOT director Russ George. People say things take a long time with CDOT, but this shows that, when they’re motivated, things can happen fast,” Raitano said. The coalition got the word that the money would be available in late January, she added.

Crucially, Raitano said the mountain resorts are sitting at the table and want implementable measures in time for the beginning of next season. That could include things like preferred parking and equipment storage for car pool riders, she said.

Additionally, CDOT is looking at ways to get important travel information out to I-70 travelers. That could include automatic text message updates or variable message boards at the base of the ski area, Kozinski said.

Vail Resorts (VR) would like to offer the traffic text message service to season pass holders, said Beth Ganz, the company’s public affairs director. Ganz, who sits on the TDM committee, said improved communication will help I-70 travelers change their behavior.

Promoting the new park-and-ride at the Hogback and getting skiers to use the carpool.com web site is also important. But she said the vast majority of cars traveling during peak times are already carrying three to four people.

“The critical step is trying to figure out what it would take to run a well-executed and appealing mass transit system within the I-70 infrastructure,” Ganz said. “We need to get people out of their cars,” she said. And it must be done in a way that reflects the broader economic interests of mountain resort towns, not just the ski areas, she added.

The TDM plan will likely be discussed at the Feb. 14 I-70 coalition board meeting in Silverthorne.

Efforts to address I-70 congestion tie in neatly with the conclusions of Gov. Ritter’s Blue Ribbon Transportation Panel’s final report, released Jan. 30.

The panel found that, “(S)imply adding more lanes to existing roads will not get Colorado where it needs to be ” the population is growing too fast for the system to keep pace with the increased demand. There should be an emphasis on management of demand, as well as building to keep pace with that demand.”

Find the final transportation report online at http://www.colorado.gov/governor.

Get more information on the I-70 mountain corridor coalition at http://www.i70solutions.org.

I-70 mountain corridor coalition board meeting. 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. North Branch library, Silverthorne