Opinion | Bruce Butler: It’s time to fix Interstate 70
Welcome to November. Three of our local ski areas are open, with Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and neighboring Eagle County resorts soon to follow. Snow is in the forecast. Soon, many Front Rangers and visitors from across the country will be descending upon Summit County like ants to a picnic.
There has been no shortage of discussion about infrastructure in Washington, D.C., as the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate Democrats feud over trillions of dollars in new social spending, and federal highway funding has become a pawn in an elaborate legislative chess match that makes sausage-assembly look neat and clean. Former Sen. Everett Dirksen famously said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Today, our Congress is throwing trillions around like pocket change in a casino, so Dirksen’s quote is horribly antiquated. Remember, 1 trillion is 12 zeroes after the number 1.
Last week, I read that Silverthorne has included $100,000 in the 2022 budget to try to revive Interstate 70 Exit 205 upgrades on the Colorado Department of Transportation’s list with the Federal Highway Administration. In addition, the town has committed $90,000 to enlist lobbyist help for the same cause. With so much funding being handed out like Snickers bars on Halloween, I can sympathize with council member Mike Spry’s comment that it really shouldn’t be necessary for towns to have to spend significant dollars on the federal government’s highway. Unfortunately, that is where we are at, and I know Frisco has faced the same challenges with Exit 203.
Without getting into too much detail, federal highway funding is administered through the state departments of transportation, so it is important to be on the state’s funding priority list. The states contribute 20% of the cost of the federal funding projects. With Summit County’s move several years ago from Region 1 in Denver to Region 3 in Grand Junction, momentum to bring exits 203 and 205 into the 21st century seems to have been lost. In a few weeks, Summit County will be facing suburban Denver traffic numbers every weekend for the reminder of the ski season. This presents real logistical and safety problems. Gov. Jared Polis likes to come to Silverthorne and Summit County for bill signings. We need his help getting CDOT to move on Exits 203 and 205. Failure to do so is a real obstacle to Summit County’s future growth and development.
For Frisco and Silverthorne, the issue is not just the interchanges themselves. Not knowing what CDOT and the federal government will ultimately do makes it almost impossible to redevelop around these interchanges, because nobody wants to spend a fortune on property that could ultimately be taken by the federal government for new interchange configurations. It also impedes the towns from being able to address arterial roadway connection problems.
That said, I remain skeptical about the efficacy of CDOT’s last conceptual design plan for the 205 interchange, dating back several years now. The design was known as a “diverging diamond,” which basically flipped the drive lanes in the vicinity of the I-70 on- and off-ramps to the left side of the road. This configuration provided longer staging for the turn lanes and, in theory, cost less because CDOT did not have to replace the bridge over the Blue River. I would add that it is also vitally important to address another egress from Wildernest as part of the comprehensive design for this area. Regardless, I foresee problems with making tourists who are unfamiliar with this concept drive British in a congested area, especially when the lane markings are obscured by snowfall.
We know that CDOT has cried poor for years, but the Colorado Legislature passed a $5.4 billion funding bill earlier this year that includes gas tax increases and new fees on retail deliveries, car rentals, ride services like Uber and other items that take effect in July 2022. At the bill-signing ceremony, Polis said the legislation will “fix the damn roads in Colorado.” With higher gas taxes and all these new fees added to spiraling inflation, I certainly hope so. It’s time to hold CDOT accountable and for Summit County’s stretch of I-70 to receive the attention it deserves.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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