I-70 comes down to funding; get involved in the process
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the future of Interstate 70, specifically the 144-mile segment between the Golden area and Glenwood Springs.
This corridor is the main east-west route through the state, currently carrying more than 10 million vehicles a year.
Because I-70 is so critical to the economic health of the state, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has been working on the short-term and long-term requirements of the corridor.
When CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration started the I-70 Mountain Corridor Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement process in 2000, the goal was to study the corridor’s current and future traffic demands and then determine what alternatives would best meet the needs of Colorado through 2025 and beyond.
In the last three years, a variety of alternatives have been examined, ranging from building alternate routes to I-70 to constructing an advanced guideway system, also known as a monorail or magnetic levitation system, parallel to I-70.
Analysis of these alternatives show that the best ways to attack I-70 congestion is to focus on transit alternatives, highway alternatives or a combination of both.
At this point, the department and the administration have narrowed down the various alternatives to a “preferred grouping” of nine. These include two guideway-bus alternatives, three highway-widening alternatives, and four highway-widening alternatives that include preserving corridor segments for future transit options.
The primary focus for new capacity would be in the area of greatest need – along the narrow stretches of I-70 through Clear Creek County.
We have a long way to go in this extensive process. The nine highway and transit options are what our agencies have determined to be the most technically and economically feasible alternatives to address the needs of the I-70 mountain corridor. The next step will require considerably greater examination of the alternatives in the preferred grouping.
Determining what’s economically feasible is part of the challenge of the study. The most optimistic funding scenario estimates that $1 billion might be available for the I-70 mountain corridor over the next 20 years. That is precisely why we need to be realistic.
We are asked, “Why don’t you build a monorail or magnetic levitation line?” We have to look at the stark financial realities. Estimates for an advanced guideway system currently are more than $5.5 billion.
Due to the long-term funding prospects, alternatives with cost estimates in this range can’t possibly be considered feasible.
As the executive director of CDOT, I have a responsibility to make sure everything we do, whether it’s road construction, maintenance or even building a rest area or a bike path, is in the best interests of Colorado citizens.
A major part of that responsibility is to ensure tax dollars are spent sensibly. The decisions I must make are complicated by the wide variety of travel patterns to mountain recreational areas and towns.
In addition to the significant funding needs of this corridor, there are other statewide transportation needs.
It ultimately comes down to funding: What can we afford to do on the I-70 mountain corridor while balancing the great transportation needs throughout the state?
Certainly something must be done sooner rather than later to address some of the corridor’s more critical needs, including upgrading interchanges and selected widening and safety improvements.
Our engineers and planners are currently examining what safety, mobility and environmental improvements can be accomplished in the short term to solve some of our most pressing problems along the corridor.
These smaller, early action projects will be designed and built as funding becomes available.
In the meantime, be assured that when the final decision is made in late 2005 or early 2006, the long- range vision for I-70 will include a sensitive approach to preserving Colorado’s scenery, environment, mountain towns and historic sites.
Our agencies are committed to accomplishing this ultimate goal and vision for the corridor by minimizing the negative effect of any alternative.
There is still substantial work to be done until the final decision is made. The I-70 mountain corridor team is assembling the draft environmental impact statement, which will be released in the spring of 2004. Our goal is to choose a “preferred alternative” in 2005.
I-70 belongs to all of us. I urge all citizens to get involved in this process over the next couple of years. By hearing from you, we’ll be able to make the best decision, one that enhances our transportation system and the values of Coloradans.
Tom Norton, an engineer and former state senator, is executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation. This first appeared in the Denver Post with commentaries on I-70 by Summit County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom and Clear Creek County Commissioner JoAnn Sorensen. To read them, go to http://www.summitdaily.com.
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