I-70: Try the toll-road concept
It was quite surprising to read your account of the Tuesday CDOT public hearing on the I-70 challenge and not see any discussion at all of a very effective and very low-cost solution based on fundamental economic principles.
The problem with I-70 is striking a good balance between providing access and mobility to the areas it serves, and respecting the environmental and other considerations that would be harmed by simply expanding the roadway.
This is difficult because I-70 now represents a very valuable resource that is available 24 hours a day for free – or at least free on the basis of incremental cost to drivers who want to use it. Behaviorally, that is still “free.”
As annoying as they are, toll roads solve this problem by using a pricing mechanism to moderate and spread out demand for a commodity.
If drivers knew that use of I-70 at peak periods would cost something extra for the value received, many would change their behavior and reschedule their trips.
Congestion disappears, with no new lane capacity required. The operator of the road need only adjust the price of usage until the congestion at peak periods abates.
Adding lanes is never a long-term solution because offering even more of a valuable commodity for free can have only one consequence, and that is to stimulate demand. Thus, more lane capacity will only add traffic to I-70, not spread out existing traffic over more lanes.
The issue of accommodating spontaneous growth in demand from growing population and growing development in the mountains is more complicated.
One of the key issues with this projected growth is the challenge of increasing the ratio of people to vehicles, because the goal of any public investment in mobility infrastructure should be to move people, not vehicles.
In the cities, good mass-transit technology such as LRT and regional rail commuter service can do this quite effectively. In the I-70 corridor, however, the capital cost of new, longer distance rail or even guided bus solutions will be very large.
One possibility CDOT should examine is how much capacity would be created on the road by requiring all long-haul trucks to use other routes, or even a new rail “piggyback” shuttle service between Denver and Grand Junction on the Union Pacific’s former Rio Grande main lines via Granby and the moth-balled line over Tennessee Pass.
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