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December 23, 2012
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Is state serious about I-70?

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - For as long as ski and summer traffic has backed up from Dumont to Silverthorne, people have been talking about transit along the Interstate 70 corridor. But for every time someone has said "something must be done," someone else has asked, "How will we pay for this?"

For the past eight years, Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon has been the county's representative on the Interstate 70 Coalition, a group of officials from the counties along the highway's mountain corridor. That group for years has been looking for solutions to the weekend backups that snarl the highway, with, so far, no real results.

The coalition and the Colorado Department of Transportation earlier this month held a forum at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds near Golden. There, representatives of eight different companies showed off their ideas of how to more efficiently move people and cargo. Runyon, who's seen a host of ideas over the years, said he was impressed with some of what he saw, particularly an idea for four-passenger vehicles.

The vehicles would be available to individuals and small groups, would run on demand and could easily make side trips off the main line along the interstate. That addresses one of conventional transit's biggest problems: Any system that carried lots of people would have to stop too often to build up any real speed.

The smaller system would cost less, too.

The biggest problem, though, is that the smaller system is still more idea than reality.

Still, Runyon believes that the idea has merit, especially if backers can make the system work with a combination of private investment and fare revenue.

Whatever happens - state officials say they want to pick a plan next year, with an eye toward having the first leg built by 2017 - Runyon said he's now "cautiously optimistic" that something might be built, sometime.

Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler is also a member of the coalition's board. Zemler said he's seeing more actual enthusiasm from state officials than he's seen before.

"They're really embracing this big step - that wasn't the case 10 years ago," Zemler said.

While most people talk about carrying passengers from the resorts to the city, Zemler said there's another part of the equation: freight. The ability of any system to haul freight would take any number of trucks off the highway, which would both reduce traffic and help cut down on bottlenecks caused when trucks lose control on icy roads on high passes.

Putting day-to-day deliveries on a transit system could also help create more steady demand, since passengers would be mostly limited to weekend rides.

There's still a long list of questions to answer before any system even makes it to the drawing board. Cost is at the top of the list, but so are questions about whether the ability to get from, say, Avon to Lakewood in an hour would create suburban-type growth in this area.

"If you have the political will, you can manage how and where we grow," Runyon said, adding that he believes the resort experience in the Vail Valley would benefit from a high-speed, high-tech way to get here from Denver's airport.

Zemler agreed that a transit system is an essential next step for the region.

"There's a notion that you progress as a state, as a country, by building alternative transit networks," Zemler said. "You need to do that over time."

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Dec 23, 2012 10:38PM Published Dec 23, 2012 10:36PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.