Lindstrom again furious at CDOT proposals for I-70
SILVERTHORNE – County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom banged his head on a table in frustration during Wednesday’s all-day meeting on the future of Interstate 70. Lindstrom accused Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) representatives of not only leaving Summit County out of any plans, but of still clinging to old-fashioned ideas for easing congestion on the mountain corridor.
It’s not the first time Lindstrom and other Summit County officials have voiced some of those ideas, but Lindstrom says it was only during this meeting that it became clear there are virtually no transportation improvements planned for Summit County.
CDOT has spent years studying alternatives for increasing the capacity of I-70 from Denver to Eagle County, a stretch of highway that is in increasingly heavy year-round demand by Front Range recreationalists. By 2005, the state agency expects to have reached a consensus on the best course of action. That could mean widening I-70 to six lanes from C-470 to Silverthorne or adding a train or monorail or designated bus guideway alongside the highway or in the median.
While the train or monorail is proposed to run from Denver International Airport to the Eagle County Airport, the bus guideway is shown running only from around C-470 to Silverthorne. Plans to expand the highway to six lanes encompass the stretch from the bottom of Floyd Hill to the Eisenhower Tunnel.
CDOT officials say traffic studies, even when counts are projected as far out as 2025, don’t show the need for highway improvements in Summit County.
“The traffic demand drops off from Denver as you head west,” said CDOT engineer Brian Pinkerton. “By the time you get to the west side of the Eisenhower Tunnel, you’ve lost enough of the traffic that we don’t see you would need any infrastructure improvements from west of Silverthorne to Vail.”
That makes Lindstrom furious.
“You go from C-470 to the Silverthorne exit with six lanes and a high-speed bus in a fixed guideway, and then it ends,” Lindstrom said. “Summit County, if it were one ski area, would be the largest ski area in the world.”
As he did during CDOT’s April 16 meeting on the same subject, Lindstrom pointed out that the six-lane highway with a bus guideway option is anything but futuristic. The bus guideway plan calls for construction of a narrow chute of sorts down the median of I-70. Buses could drive on the guideway, out of the congestion of other highway traffic. While CDOT officials said April 16 the buses could travel at speeds around 80 mph, Pinkerton this week said they’d top out at about 55 mph. The buses could, however, hold that speed on inclines as well as flat sections of the highway.
The advantage to the bus guideway, he said, is that the buses could travel through Clear Creek County – an area of intense congestion – quickly.
“Getting through Clear Creek County quickly could be a big deal in peak hours,” Pinkerton said.
Another advantage to the buses: They can leave the guideway and merge with other traffic. In Summit County, that means the buses could travel on to other destinations, such as Keystone, Breckenridge or on over Vail Pass to Eagle County.
CDOT has also shown plans for Clear Creek County that call for elevating portions of the highway to keep I-70 within its already narrow footprint. Another bore, to accommodate the added lanes, is proposed at the Twin Tunnels at Idaho Springs and construction of a new tunnel at Floyd Hill.
While CDOT officials maintain all options are still on the board, many mountain residents believe the state has already decided to six-lane the highway and build the bus guideway.
“So your high-speed transit alternative is a rubber-tired, fossil-fueled bus?” Lindstrom said. “I can do that today. We have Greyhound buses that go through here every day. For $19, I can go to Denver on a bus. This is something new and different?
“There were four counties that voted for fixed guideway (monorail) – Clear Creek, Summit, Eagle and Lake. So two of the three counties that voted for the fixed guideway are getting nothing. The people in Clear Creek County are getting six lanes, four new tunnels and an elevated structure in the middle of Idaho Springs that’s butt-ugly. This is their answer?”
CDOT officials also said this week they will have to get creative to fund any I-70 solutions.
“There is no easy solution here at all,” Pinkerton said.
Lindstrom thinks the entire process is a waste of time, but said he’s sufficiently riled to rail at CDOT to come up with something better.
“This is my life’s passion now – this and peace in the Middle East,” he said. “We may already have solved peace in the Middle East. We may never solve the transportation problem.”
Pinkerton said CDOT plans to set up a meeting with Summit County’s leaders sometime in mid-May, during which state officials will try to address local concerns.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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