Summit County officials encourage public transit as congestion increases along I-70 corridor
As the number of cars driving down the Interstate 70 mountain corridor increases year over year, Colorado officials are pushing for more widespread use of public transportation options.
The I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit organization representing businesses, towns and county governments across the I-70 corridor, launched its “Break up With Your Car” campaign Feb. 8. The goal of the campaign is to get people to rethink their options when traveling from Denver to the mountains.
The campaign is largely in response to growing traffic numbers on I-70. Around 12.6 million cars traveled through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels in 2021, according to an I-70 Coalition news release. That is an 11% increase over the 11.3 million drivers in 2020, the lowest year since 2014 due to the pandemic. The busiest year on record was 2018 with 13.4 million.
The coalition anticipates more growth as people move to Denver, I-70 Coalition Director Margaret Bowes said.
“Knowing that we will never be able to build enough lanes to accommodate all of those cars, we know we need to move in the direction of getting folks to utilize transit between the Denver metro area and the mountains,” she said.
The campaign released information about transit options to town governments and organizations along the corridor, including the Summit County, Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne governments as well as Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Copper Mountain Resort and Vail Resorts-owned ski areas.
The nonprofit also published a comprehensive list of transit options at GoI70.com/transit.
Another major part of the initiative is ensuring that people know how they can get around once they get to their destination. Bowes said the list includes information on transit options, such as Summit Stage and Breckenridge Free Ride.
“We need a holistic system,” Bowes said. “If we want to get people up to the mountains without a car, we need to make sure that there are ways for them to get from Frisco to Breckenridge, to get to the Quandary trailhead.”
In Summit County, officials are working to expand transit options in hopes of easing congestion on highly trafficked roads. The Colorado Department of Transportation awarded the Summit County Open Space and Trails department a $50,000 grant to support a pilot program for transit to the Quandary Peak trailhead.
The county launched the program last summer with the hope of easing traffic along Colorado Highway 9 during the summer months when Quandary is a popular destination.
“People were parking on the highway, they were parking on roads in the subdivision and that was blocking people from getting to their houses that lived in the area as well as making it difficult for emergency vehicles to safely get in and out of Quandary,” said Katherine King, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails Department.
Last year, the county operated the shuttle from August through October. The county received positive feedback from people living in the area and saw a reduction in parking and traffic issues, King said. The grant will help the county run the program again this summer, shouldering some of the costs for drivers, gas, insurance and advertising.
Traffic congestion has often been an issue when it comes to managing trails. Though Summit Stage is able to take people to many trails throughout the county, the Open Space and Trails Department is always looking at ways to reduce congestion, King said.
“Certainly, the use of public transportation and shuttle systems is one tool in the toolbox that we may be looking to in the future to try to better manage crowding at trailheads,” she said.
Bowes said she’s continuing to encourage municipalities and businesses to expand their transit options. For example, Copper, A-Basin and Steamboat Resort all have shuttles from Denver to the resort areas. Bowes said she’d like to see other resorts open their own transit options, as well.
Ultimately, reduced congestion along the I-70 corridor will improve business, the environment and the experience of hundreds of drivers, Bowes said.
“We don’t want skiing in Colorado to be synonymous with traffic,” she said.
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