Monorail proponents won’t let Interstate 70 project fade away
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Colorado Intermountain Fixed Guideway Authority (CIFGA) will die at the end of this year, but its efforts to build a monorail between Denver and Eagle will not, CIFGA members say.
The Colorado Legislature created CIFGA in 1998 to look into alternative transportation along the mountain corridor of Interstate 70, with the understanding that the Legislature’s support would cease at the end of 2003.
The monorail ideally will travel at more than 100 mph, making stops at several stations between Denver and Eagle. Early designs show it could carry as many as 10,000 passengers an hour per direction. It will cost an estimated $25-30 million per mile to build, cheaper than adding two more lanes to I-70 and capable of carrying almost eight times as many people as those extra lanes, its proponents say.
Mass transit to and from the mountains is vital to the future success of most of Colorado’s ski resorts and towns, many believe. The glut of drivers heading home to Denver from the mountains on Sunday evenings in both summer and winter often turns the normally one-hour drive into a four-hour one. That’s deterring some Front Range residents from coming up.
“I would never dream of driving up to the mountains on a Sunday, much as I’d like to see the aspen or go to Beau Jo’s,” said Jim Scherer, a former state legislator who has been heavily involved in the monorail project. “I don’t think anybody in the (Denver) metro area would do that.”
The monorail is one of several options the state highway department is considering in its Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), a study to find alternatives to ease congestion along I-70. The PEIS is set for completion in spring 2005. After that, the Colorado Department of Transportation will start plans to make those transportation improvements happen.
Despite some significant setbacks, CIFGA’s supporters are confident the monorail will eventually happen.
The authority took a major hit in November 2001, when Colorado voters denied a ballot request to spend $50 million in excess state revenue to test technology and research costs for the high-speed monorail system. The question failed in every county but three: Summit, Eagle and Clear Creek.
Nevertheless, the Federal Transportation Authority (FTA) is spending $3 million to test the monorail technology for applications far more widespread than just the I-70 corridor.
Monorail projects are in the works in Seattle, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh.
Seattle’s planned 40-mile system will ease congestion on Interstate 5 and other city thoroughfares. In Las Vegas, the monorail will link several casinos, reducing traffic on the Strip.
But the FTA testing, now under way in a New Mexico laboratory, also will show if a monorail can work in Colorado’s challenging mountain elements and terrain.
While that’s a big step in the right direction, Idaho Springs resident Mary Jane Loevlie said, Colorado is a long way from seeing a monorail come to fruition.
“One of the catch 22s is there is neither funding for highway improvements or the monorail,” said Loevlie, who has been working to bring another transportation option to the I-70 corridor since 1988. “We’re hoping for further funding from the FTA. Our mission is to keep the transit authority alive, probably in some other form. We don’t know whether it will be a corridorwide transit authority (or) an intergovernmental agreement between the counties. But it will take some other form of legal status.”
Until some form of high-speed transit is built along I-70, traffic will only get worse. Projections show the corridor hitting gridlock by 2025.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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