Gibbs and Ryan: The plan to fix the I-70 mountain corridor (column)
Denver’s Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee recently announced its recommendation that Colorado should pursue hosting a future Winter Games. This has generated a tremendous amount of interest and discussion.
One of the issues that consistently comes up is I-70. Can an already congested highway handle the additional traffic a Winter Games would generate between Denver and our mountain communities? Could hosting the Olympics grease the wheels for solutions to our congestion problems on I-70?
What gets lost in all the discussion — and what is important for Coloradans to know — is that there is an existing plan for the I-70 Mountain Corridor. And regardless of whether Colorado ever hosts a future Olympic Games, we must continue to move forward with this plan, because it is the answer to the frustrating conditions we experience on the interstate.
This plan was issued by the Federal Highway Administration and the Colorado Department of Transportation in June 2011. A product of years-long debate among a diverse group of stakeholders stretching from Denver to the Western Slope, it calls for both expansion of the interstate and high-speed mass transit. Extensive technical analysis concluded that such a multi-modal approach was the only way to meet the corridor’s capacity needs through the year 2050.
Some progress has been made in implementing this plan. For example, the Veterans Memorial Tunnels have been expanded, and the eastbound Mountain Express Lane has been built. Other highway improvements are planned, including a westbound Mountain Express Lane, and lane widening and redesign at Floyd Hill.
These fixes alone are not enough, however. As the analysis determined, highway improvements must be completed in conjunction with high-speed transit. One without the other will not solve the problem; both are needed to meet the long-term needs of this critical corridor.
And this is where more needs to be done. There is a long-held perception that high-speed transit is some far-off, prohibitively expensive fantasy. Not necessarily so.
Under CDOT’s leadership, Colorado has become ground zero for a revolution in transportation technology. The private sector is in a race to build new transit technologies in our state that are expected to be operational in just two to three years. Public-private partnership models can reduce costs, and these companies are also exploring ways their systems can pay for themselves, whether through fares or other means.
This is a game changer.
These technologies can work in the mountain corridor. They are efficient, safe and weatherproof. They would provide a permanent and long-standing solution to congestion in the corridor and would showcase Colorado to the world as a leader in sustainable transportation. Moreover, they would help address the congestion caused by tourist traffic that many of our mountain communities are experiencing, while still ensuring tourists can get to those communities.
The earliest Colorado would host an Olympic Games is 2030. We can and should make a lot of progress on the I-70 plan in the interim. Regardless of whether Denver secures a future Olympics, Colorado must continue to move forward with the implementation of the plan for I-70.
Dan Gibbs is a Summit County Commissioner and serves as chair of the I-70 Coalition. Jill Ryan is an Eagle County Commissioner and serves as vice chair of the I-70 Coalition.
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