Local officials have mixed reaction to CDOT’s Interstate-70 proposals | SummitDaily.com

Local officials have mixed reaction to CDOT’s Interstate-70 proposals

SUMMIT COUNTY – Not everyone came away satisfied from Wednesday’s meeting on the future of Interstate 70.

Representatives of groups with a stake in the corridor’s traffic flow, including ski areas, truckers associations and counties and towns along I-70, gathered at a Silverthorne hotel to hear the Colorado Department of Transportation give an update on plans for easing congestion in the mountains.

County commissioners Gary Lindstrom and Bill Wallace both feel CDOT has already made up its mind what will happen on I-70, and that has them seeing red. But other locals who attended the all-day session believe CDOT’s message that the final outcome remains undecided and the discussion open.

CDOT officials said they’re looking at several options for improving conditions on the mountain corridor of I-70, including six lanes from Floyd Hill to Silverthorne combined with some form of mass transit. Those mass transit possibilities include a bus guideway system, which would set the buses in a private lane apart from other interstate traffic, and a monorail, also with its own track. Both the guideway buses and the monorail would travel at faster speeds than general traffic.

County Commissioner Bill Wallace said he likes the idea of a combined alternative, but he came away from Wednesday’s meeting with the impression that CDOT has a definite affinity for more lanes of traffic.

“Obviously, the majority of the work was done based on six-laning the highway,” he said, “so it’s sort of a foregone conclusion the main thrust is going to be to six-lane I-70.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all, particularly with the governor we now have. He thinks we can pave our way out of congestion, and it’s not going to work.”

Governor and CDOT respond

Gov. Bill Owens’ press secretary, Dan Hopkins, doesn’t take kindly to that accusation.

“The governor’s had no involvement in the study,” he said. Hopkins went on to defend Owens’ stance on traffic solutions. “The biggest transportation project in the state’s history, T-RE, is a multi-modal project with light rail and highway. I’d say that’s pretty obvious example that what’s being said is not true.”

T-RE, under construction in southeast Denver on Interstates 25 and 225, includes 19 miles of light rail and additional highway lanes on both I-25 and I-225 that will, in some sections, make I-225 a 10-lane throughway.

CDOT’s Cecilia Joy, project manager for the I-70 transit study, defended the process and said no conclusion on modes of transportation has been reached.

“An ultimate decision will not be made until we reach that final record of decision, which is still a couple of years away,” she said, adding that that allows for plenty of time to discuss the existing suggestions as well as introducing new ones. “But CDOT has a responsibility to put forth reasonable alternatives.”

She did, however, note that the bus guideway “offers an awful lot because it it not fixed.”

“That’s a tremendous advantage,” Joy said.

County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom, who said he did not compare notes with Wallace, also found Wednesday’s meeting upsetting.

“What they talked about is extremely short sighted and does not take into consideration future needs,” he said. “We’ve had buses forever, and rubber tire gas-driven or diesel-driven vehicles is not alternative transportation. I really thought CDOT planners would come up with something that had greater vision.”

Other local viewpoints

Not everyone feels the same way Wallace and Lindstrom do, however.

Breckenridge Ski Area’s vice president of operations, Rick Sramek, doesn’t think the magnetically levitated monorail is a feasible alternative, and the state can’t afford to wait for that technology to develop before making some serious changes to I-70.

“The process alone of finding a solution is taking years,” he said. “We have an issue on I-70 now. We’ve got to keep pushing forward.”

Sramek also said the mass transit solutions won’t do much to alleviate summer traffic congestion, when recreationalists are hauling boats, campers and other toys that won’t fit onto any bus or train.

Summit Stage director Bill Watterson said he has faith CDOT will do what its representatives have said it will.

“I imagine everyone has some concern about whether decisions are more final than they’re being portrayed,” he said. “But I’m going to take them at their word. I’m feeling pretty good they have a reasonable range of possibilities for public transportation in addition to more conventional things (such as highway widening).”

Bill Linfield, Silverthorne’s public works director, also sat through much of Wednesday’s meeting. He left feeling that Summit and Eagle counties need to mobilize and let the state know what they think.

“It’s pretty obvious the people in Clear Creek County have had a lot of discussions beyond this I-70 committee,” he said. “We’re not at that point in Summit and Eagle counties, and we probably need to be there, too. I think now is the time for us to really get our act together.”

He also credited CDOT for thinking beyond conventional methods for easing congestion.

“When this whole process started, I think their goal was, “We’re going to widen the highway’,” he said. “I think everybody’s ganged up on this enough that they’re thinking beyond that.”

Matt Sugar, director of public affairs for Vail Resorts’ Development Company, said he’s just happy to see the process moving along.

“The mountain towns and the ski areas are feeling the pinch, and it’s imperative that we continue to work to come up with alternatives and solutions to the problems that dominate the corridor,” he said. “You’ve got to get there, but it’s one step at a time.”

The unknowns

A solid timeline and funding for any of the alternatives discussed to date hasn’t been determined. Cost estimates range from $300 million for what CDOT calls “minimal action,” to $9.4 billion for changes that include six lanes throughout the corridor and a mass transit option.

Colorado Congressman Mark Udall is now seeking $4.4 billion in federal funding for his congressional district, including $2.5 billion for improvements to I-70’s mountain corridor.

The governor’s spokesman said it’s difficult to talk about funding until the methods for improving traffic flow have been selected. In addition to the federal funding Udall is seeking, Hopkins said, “the state transportation commission can always in the future go through another round of bonding. There are a lot of avenues.”

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.com

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