Vail Daily column: A plea for potholes
August 7, 2014
We've been talking for decades now about spending billions of dollars to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
With money that could go to education, say, a consensus of community leaders would throw it all at a train or monorail, widening Interstate 70, anything that speeds visitors here and back to Denver every hour of every day.
We'd spend billions to "fix" congestion on certain Saturday mornings coming into the mountains and certain Sunday afternoons back to the Front Range. Never mind that for the overwhelming majority of the time, you can drive the highway just as fast as the State Patrol will let you.
I'm not going to argue that we don't have congestion at these peak periods. It indeed is maddening and does make you think twice about making that drive at that time ever again if you can help it.
The problem that does not exist is the myth that we'll have all this fabulous extra business if only it were always easy to zoom right up to Vail and other mountain towns.
This myth amazes me. So many otherwise brilliant people buy into it without a second thought.
Am I really the only one who notes when Vail and Beaver Creek are packed? Powder days. Three-day holidays. Attractive events. Great weather by the standards of the season (snow in winter, gorgeous during summer).
Then, the ski mountains reach capacity. The towns and campgrounds fill up. Funny, they do this at the same time gridlock kicks in. In reality, we don't lack for numbers on busy days, and the highway is unclogged when fewer people are visiting.
So what root problem are we really trying to solve here?
Making it easier to get to Vail from Denver actually will cause a deeper problem than what speeding up the drive presumes to solve.
How to put this? The Front Range folk whom a Vail chamber representative infamously labeled "riff-raff" half a dozen years ago indeed are valuable visitors. But the truth is that Vail and Beaver Creek are meccas for "destination visitors" from farther way, and those are the targeted highest-end customers for our resorts.
You can argue that these visitors can get caught in the peak time congestion, too. But generally, they have more means to avoid the traffic surges with minor planning tweaks if flying into Denver. No issue at all if they fly into our airport, which last I looked is what we want them to do.
Never mind the drive. It's the experience on the mountain and in town that matters most.
Get the blend of locals, drive-ins and destination visitors wrong, and that's when actual problems begin. Too few people on the mountain, and in town — there's a problem, sure. Too many — well, that's ultimately a bigger problem. Drive-in visitors overwhelming town — there's a problem if the target customers have a lesser experience, and they would.
So I'm glad that perhaps the most inept coalition on the planet outside of Afghanistan has been struggling with I-70 for decades with little effect.
Fewer drive-in customers make it to Vail or Beaver Creek on peak weekends? That's a good thing, not bad. I realize this sounds counterintuitive with the hysteria emanating from the "something must be done now" crowd.
For whatever reason, we don't recognize the obvious. I-70 serves as a natural brake on overcrowding and provides incentive for mid-week visits as well as overnight trips here. We gain more than we lose, in short.
Here's the better answer: More potholes.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2920.