VAIL — Beginning in spring 2015, High Country residents will have a new way to get to the Front Range. The Colorado Department of Transportation will be introducing the Inter-regional Express Bus that will run from Glenwood to Denver and back daily on Interstate 70. Another route will travel the Interstate 25 corridor.
The state-funded bus will run every weekday, year-round, with stops in Eagle, the Vail Transportation Center, the Frisco Transit Center and the Denver Federal Center. A one-way trip from Glenwood will cost $28, while a one-way trip from Vail will cost $17.
“It’s designed to be a way for folks with doctors appointments and other medical needs in Denver to get there,” said Margaret Bowes, program manager for the I-70 Coalition. “For now we’re starting with one a day, but more buses will be added as demand dictates.”
The bus is one of the simpler ways that the state and groups such as the I-70 Coalition are introducing to help ease traffic on the interstate. Long-term solutions such as a high-speed transit system and added lanes are being considered, but in the meantime, the Coalition is trying to change traveler habits in hopes that it will make the weekend drives a little less arduous.
The website www.goi70.com provides travelers with real-time road information that will connect drivers to CDOT’s mobile app, and send text and email alerts about accidents and delays. The “travel forecast” section of the site gives drivers a detailed prediction of what to expect on the roads. For the weekend of Aug. 22-24, the site gave the times for Vail Pass closures due to the Vail Time Trial, and warned of heavy traffic going westbound from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The hope is that people might check the forecast before hopping in their cars, and that they might avoid the heavy traffic times. The site started in 2009, and Bowes said that currently upwards of 2,000 people view the site each weekend.
“We post these forecasts weekly, and they can be a valuable tool. A lot of the travel on this corridor is discretionary, so hopefully people can make decisions based on the information. We have a lot of repeat viewers at the site, which tells me that people are using it as a constant source,” said Bowes.
In addition, the Coalition has beefed up a new program that offers perks for travelers who avoid driving at the busiest times or opt to stay an extra night in the mountain times.
Businesses from towns up and down the corridor can post their specials — they range from happy hour deals at La Tour to half-price rooms at Vail hotels to unlimited late check-out on Monday at various lodges.
“We rolled out this program last winter, and we’re hearing from businesses that it’s successful and growing,” said Bowes. “We have over 100 businesses participating and 15,000 deals were used last ski season.”
Vail’s Sitzmark Lodge offers a peak-travel time deal of $99 for a Sunday night stay.
“We’ve seen a much bigger response this year,” said general manager Jeanne Fritch. “I think these deals will make a difference both by encouraging people to stay longer and relieving some of the congestion. Since traffic is getting bad on Friday, too, maybe we need to do it on the front end, with Thursday night deals.”
The cost of congestion
According to a 2007 report from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, I-70 congestion is more than just an annoyance — it costs an estimated $839 million per year in tourism. That includes loss of sales tax revenue from people who are sitting in traffic instead of spending money, the value of people’s time and the people who are simply choosing to cut their stay short or not come at all because of the drive.
It’s a sentiment that many Vail businesses are echoing, and some are pushing for more action.
Dale Bugby, a Vail town councilmember and president of Vistar Real Estate in Vail, said that traffic has worsened to the point that it is directly hurting business. “It used to be that we knew how to advise people on their travel plans and how long it would take to get to DIA,” he said. “In the last couple years our confidence in telling people those times have diminished. We actually have guests checking out a day early because they’re afraid they won’t be able to drive down in time to catch their flight. We’ve confirmed that this is happening to other lodges as well.”
The problem isn’t just more cars, he said, it’s accidents in the winter caused by cars and trucks with inadequate tires or without chains. Bugby and other members of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association plan to meet with legislators and CDOT officials this fall to discuss how to make the roads safer during the winter.
“All the hotels in the state are competing with other resorts. If you can drive to Park City (from Salt Lake City) in 30 minutes, and you can drive from Denver to here in maybe 2.5 hours, we’ll lose visitors and second homeowners,” said Bugby. “The perception is that it’s a bad road. People who have a bad experience or missed their flight might not come back, and they won’t be skiing that extra day.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.