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Road to contention

Editorial

The debate is heating up about the proposed Road to Wildernest, and we’re excited about it – although we’re also sorely disappointed with the opposition to date.

It’s a blessing to see so many people in the community become involved so early in the process. This plan began as a series of discussions by private citizens interested in investigating the possibility of a road to connect Frisco directly to Wildernest.

At present, even though some public officials are now involved, the project is far-from-approved and still in the conceptual stages, which is why it bothers us to see groups of people organizing against the proposal. At this point, there’s really nothing concrete to protest. The opposition has valid concerns about wildlife and possibly some other issues, but to come to the table and state outright that they’re opposed to any road demonstrates that they’re too closed-minded to evaluate the road on its true merits. Once their concerns are on the table, those who would like to see the road could search for valid remedies for the opposition’s concerns. To shoot down a proposal before all such options are discussed is to bury one’s head in the sand.

Benefits

As far as the merits of the road itself, we see a number of benefits.

One of the most contentious discussions in Colorado today is about how to rectify traffic problems along the Interstate 70 corridor. That the problem has become so profound is a sign that officials 20 years ago did not heed warnings of population growth and therefore did not plan for that growth (if they had such warnings).

Current predictions say the population on the Western Slope is about to explode. Many of us who have been here for a decade or more (and some who have been here only a year, in fact) believe the population in Summit County has already exploded and that the roads are already too congested. A direct link from Frisco to Silverthorne would help ease this congestion, not just now but in the future, when we see the explosion of residents – not to mention any increase in tourists – flood our community.

In addition to easing overall congestion in the county, a Road to Wildernest could mitigate some of the traffic problems in Silverthorne in particular – an area of particular concern, as evidenced during the past several construction seasons and with the opening of the new Target.

A Road to Wildernest would also allow for an easier commute for locals seeking to shop in different areas of the county – primarily the flow of shoppers between Frisco and Silverthorne. There are those who have suggested that increased commerce in Frisco is the only reason for the road, the implication being that this is not a legitimate reason to build it. We disagree. The economic health of Summit County as a whole is directly tied to the economic health of any one particular town. Additionally, Silverthorne, too, would benefit from this new connection, as would shoppers as far away as Breckenridge or even Fairplay.

Finally, any time I-70 and the dam road are closed – or even severely congested – a Road to Wildernest would offer another alternative to connect the shopping center of Silverthorne to the rest of Summit County. As we saw during the epic snowstorms this past spring, closed roads can be a real hindrance in the county. An alternative route would alleviate congestion in such situations. Furthermore, if road closures are restricted to I-70 alone, the alternate route will prove invaluable to Summit County, as travelers merely passing through the county would have no need to detour onto the Road to Wildernest. Locals would be guaranteed free passage along a route that can otherwise be clogged by cars that will never even stop in Summit.

Concerns

Ultimately, a number of concerns about such a road remain to be addressed – primarily concerns about possibly building a road through elk-calving habitat. We certainly do not support major disruptions of wildlife corridors, but our first order of business should be to identify all such major concerns and clearly delineate our goals. For example, what is our goal for such wildlife areas? Never disrupt them at all (too late – much of Summit County development has already displaced wildlife)? Try to minimize further disruption? Ensure there are viable, alternative habitat options for wildlife and make sure we protect those areas for all of perpetuity?

We have to be realistic about what our goals should be – it’s too late to protect all wildlife habitat, or we’ll have to start tearing buildings down. But we can certainly be sensitive to wildlife as we plan future development – as long as we don’t kid ourselves into believing such development will never occur.

It is possible to alleviate many concerns about the proposed Road to Wildernest, and now is the time for the public to get involved and voice what those concerns may be. But it’s imperative that every one of us keep an open mind – if those supporting the road find viable solutions to the concerns, those opposed must accept those solutions (or propose some themselves). Otherwise, the opposition is fighting for the sake of the fight, not for the sake of the economic and demographic health of the county.

We believe a Road to Wildernest is necessary, although we will reserve judgment on any specific proposals until further along in the process. We encourage anyone and everyone who will be affected by such a road to take part in any public meetings (some private parties may convene without having to invite the public, but these are not decision-making bodies) and voice concerns while considering alternative options to meet everyone’s goals.

It will be a long road ahead, but communication is the beginning of a successful project. The debate might be passionate. It might be lively. But this is how government is supposed to work.

Opinions published in this space are formulated by members of the Summit Daily News editorial board: Michael Bennett, Jim Pokrandt, Abigail Eagye, Rachel Toth, Reid Williams, Aidan Leonard, Shauna Farnell and Martha Lunsky.


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