Interstate 70 coalition gets down to nitty-gritty Thursday
summit daily news
GRANBY ” Planning the future of Interstate 70 through the mountain corridor west of Denver is a little like playing Candyland, a state transportation official said, referring to the popular board game that involves a chancy quest for a make-believe chocolate kingdom.
“You draw a card,” said CDOT Region 1 director Jeff Kullman during opening remarks at the I-70 Mountain Corridor Coalition meeting near Granby. “Sometimes you go forward, sometimes you go back five steps, sometimes you have to do a loop. Our goal is to draw that right card to get to Candyland ” whatever that might be.”
The two-day session, attended by representatives from 26 different town and county jurisdictions, has the lofty goal of finding regional consensus on a visionary, 50-year transit plan for the corridor.
CDOT projections show dramatic increases in traffic volume on the highway in coming decades, so that even with proposed improvements, travel times between many destinations will remain the same as they are now, only with more cars able to make the trip.
Along with addressing future demand, Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace said the coalition must address current side effects of I-70. Some impacts may not have been anticipated during original construction of I-70, including the number of hazmat trucks rolling through Dillon, traction sand degrading water quality in Straight Creek, or the steadily increasing level of sound pollution in the Vail Valley.
“Take care of what’s already there,” echoed Sulphur Springs Mayor Stan Bernal, who was tending the cash register at his 4B’s store and Phillips 66 gas station along U.S. Highway 40 Thursday morning. Bernal fretted that the focus on I-70 will reduce the resources available for other important transportation corridors.
CDOT is looking more broadly at how other east-west corridors will fit into that larger growth picture, Kullman explained.
But the highways south of I-70 carry only a small fraction of the total trans-mountain traffic. The U.S. Highway 50 corridor, for example, only carries about 3 percent, Kullman said, emphasizing that the I-70 corridor will carry the brunt of the burden.
The challenge is to balance the required mobility with environmental and quality of life concerns that affect everyone within the wider I-70 sphere of influence, as well as the social and political will to find a resolution.
In the end, finding a resolution may come down to a question of money, said Silverthorne Mayor Lou Delpiccolo. There are solutions and there is technology that would help the coalition achieve its goal of moving people and goods along the corridor, but they are expensive, DelPiccolo said.
He said to get priority funding for I-70 work, there needs to be widespread support from the many different entities involved. Kullman used the U.S. Highway 36 (Boulder to Denver) planning effort as an example.
“They’ve been able to put their project to the head of the heap,” Kullman said.
Breaking up into groups of eight and 10, the representatives started charting out their vision of how the I-70 corridor will look in 50 years.
Not surprisingly, based on the many local discussions heard around the corridor, there is some recognition that there would probably be some transit component, along with added lanes at least in some critical areas.
Other groups emphasized the need to integrate land-use and transportation planning.
“I’m here as a member of the Rural Resort Region,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland. “I’m concerned about the short-sighted way we look at things in this state. I want to challenge some of the assumptions on statewide growth. Will your communities be willing to accommodate that growth?”
“Do we want to accommodate the projected growth, as well as the induced additional growth that I-70 improvements will spur,” he asked, as the roundtables reported back to the larger group. “Or will quality-of-life issues force constraints on growth?”
Some of the most critical issues, including the peak-hour congestion between Denver and Summit County, is caused by user patterns, said some of the representatives, urging the coalition and CDOT “to get serious about behavior modification.”
That could include alternative truck routes, incentives for nonpeak travel, as well as alternatives like toll travel and high-occupancy vehicle lanes.
Nearly everyone at the meeting appeared to agree that some immediate improvements to certain chokepoints are needed as soon as possible, and that the time and budget constraints laid out by CDOT as part of its draft environmental impact statement are unrealistic.
To view the document, go to http://www.i70mtncorridor.com.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970-3998, ext. 228, or at email@example.com.
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