Opinion | Bruce Butler: Fixing the gridlock
Common Sense Conversations
Another weekend of near-gridlock traffic has come and gone. It is no secret to anybody in Summit County that we are facing suburban-Denver traffic volumes and congestion nearly every weekend of the year, and the weekend seems to start on Thursday and end on Tuesday.
Several years ago, Summit County was moved from the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Region 1 in Aurora to CDOT Region 3 in Grand Junction in order to be united with the remainder of the Western Slope. This move had its pros and cons, as it is advantageous for Summit County to be aligned with Western Slope counties across a wide array of issues. The problem is the traffic and congestion problems are to and from the Front Range, not the Western Slope. Summit County has done a good job of pressuring CDOT to complete the four-lane expansion of Colorado Highway 9 from Frisco to Breckenridge and realigning the very dangerous curves approaching Farmers Korner through the Iron Springs bypass.
However, the woefully underperforming interchanges at Interstate 70 exits 203 and 205 remain major congestion points that are only going to get worse as the Front Range population increases. The underperformance of these two interchanges has evolved from an inconvenience to a traffic safety problem and demand the attention of our federal, state and local officials.
For more than a decade, the state Legislature has cried poor, pressured voters to pass new transportation taxes at the ballot box and blamed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights for the inability to improve Colorado’s highway infrastructure. In June, Gov. Polis signed a $5.4 billion transportation funding law that will raise “fees” on everything from gasoline and diesel to retail deliveries to ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber starting in July 2022. These are fees, not taxes, because tax increases require voter approval. Fees will continue to rise automatically, but only about one-third of the money is slated for improving highways, bridges and tunnels. Forgive me for being skeptical. I have no doubt the cost of living and automobile ownership will increase, but I suspect the condition of I-70 will still suck 10 years from now.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is attempting to pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, and Senate Democrats are promising to push another (at least) $3.5 trillion of “infrastructure” spending on top of the $1.2 trillion. The federal government has gone on a $7 trillion money printing and spending spree since the onset of COVID-19 last March. It doesn’t sound like much when you say it fast, but there are 12 zeroes after the seven. Future generations will still be paying back this profligate spending while governments have not been able to spend all of it. Yet somehow we need to print and spend even more money!
There are all sorts of rules, restrictions and conditions placed on receipt of government funds, and transportation is no exception, but the notion that government is too poor to address two failing interchanges on a major highway is ridiculous.
For all my 21 years in Summit County, rehabilitation of the Exit 205 interchange has always been 10 years away. A few years ago, there was some momentum to implement a diverging diamond interchange concept that would force people to drive British for a distance in order to create longer turning lanes and, more importantly, enable CDOT to leave one overpass untouched. Can you imagine tourists trying to navigate driving on the left side of the road in conditions where the pavement markings are covered in snow? Regardless, the effort was postponed, and we are back to some futuristic time frame for improvements while the properties around exits 203 and 205 are stuck in time, as nobody is going to pay to redevelop these sites without knowing if the Federal Highway Administration is going to eventually condemn the property for future expansion.
It is going to take significant time in Grand Junction and Denver, and all the pressure our county commissioners can muster, to ensure Summit County is not left on the side of the road while the Front Range sucks up the highway funds. It is worth it because improving these substandard interchanges is a major economic development obstacle to the future of our county.
Bruce Butler’s column “Common Sense Conversations” publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Butler is a former mayor and council member in Silverthorne, where he has lived for 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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