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Our View: Feeling hopeful about 2020

It wasn’t all bad news, even though it often felt that way in 2019.

It was, undoubtedly, a year of discord. The local, state and national headlines reflected that. Here in Eagle County, we argued over a controversial workforce housing development in East Vail and a historic barn in Avon. At the polls in November, Colorado voters had their say on a reform measure to the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights following a bruising campaign season. Nationally, the impeachment of President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives has severely widened the national divide between progressives and conservatives — with no middle ground to be found.

So what’s there to be optimistic about in the New Year? The impeachment trial in the Senate promises to bring more of the same vitriol, as does the 2020 presidential election. Brace yourself for the nastiness.

And the saga of a workforce housing project in East Vail — and the possible fate of a herd of bighorn sheep — is far from settled. The arguments will continue as a legal challenge to the Vail Town Council’s decision plays out in court and a new council — now comprised of a majority opposed to the development — works to find a resolution.

Still, we’re optimistic, for a number of reasons. Good news? Look no further than the commitment that Vail Health and a number of other local organizations have made to combat our behavioral health crisis in Eagle County. Vail Health made a $60 million pledge over 10 years, in early April, with the launch of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, then doubled down at the end of the year by announcing a multi-year fundraising campaign to raise another $100 million. That drive is already off to a remarkable start, thanks to nearly $19 million in pledges, including $15 million from the Precourt family.

It truly is “going to take this entire valley,” as Chris Lindley, EVBH’s executive director, stated at the campaign launch event. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

We’re also hopeful that new state health care reforms, including a bill to create a publicly funded health insurance option that was co-sponsored by local lawmakers Kerry Donovan and Dylan Roberts, will make a dent for locals in a county with some of the highest insurance rates in the nation. We’re also encouraged by the ongoing efforts to create sustainable relief for health care costs between Vail Health, the Vail Valley Partnership and other local entities that models the Peak Health Alliance in Summit County.

Also, new taxes and restrictions on tobacco in Eagle County and local municipalities go into effect today, overwhelmingly approved by voters, that are designed to get citizens, especially our local youth, to stop smoking and vaping.

All of those developments are encouraging.

And, it goes without saying, in a resort market like ours, that snow makes everything better. What better way to ring in 2020 than with another powder day during a season that has been solid so far.

As for resolutions, ours at the Vail Daily remain the same as ever: We’re committed to telling the stories that matter to our locals, our second-home owners and our visitors. Ditto for continuing to serve as a community forum where successes, both big and small, can be celebrated and where disagreements can be debated in a civil manner.

Journalism in this country may be facing an existential crisis (just look at the Front Range media landscape), which is why we consider ourselves lucky to be in the position we’re in. Studies overwhelming show that communities without a local news source are less informed and less engaged.

We’re all lucky to call such a stunningly beautiful place home — or a home away from home.

Here’s to new beginnings in 2020. Happy New Year.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Advertising Director Holli Snyder, Digital Engagement Editor Sean Naylor, Business Editor Scott Miller and Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd.

Our View: Davis, Foley, Mason, Langmaid for Vail Town Council

This is a particularly good year for Vail Town Council candidates.

Seven excellent candidates are seeking four seats on the seven-member board. Our recommendation is for Vail voters to re-elect council members Kim Langmaid, Jen Mason and Kevin Foley, along with newcomer Barry Davis.

The incumbents are doing a pretty good job handling the town’s affairs, and Davis presents voters with an opportunity to elect a candidate who brings a fresh perspective and thinking to the board.

Again, though, any of these seven candidates would bring knowledge, experience and a love of the town to the office.

Pete Seibert’s name will ring a lot of familiar bells with voters, since he’s the son of Vail’s founder. But Seibert’s more than just a familiar name and face. He has long experience in the resort and real estate businesses, and has spent years involved in community groups including Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

Brian Stockmar brings perhaps the longest resume to the race, with experience in international law and finance. Stockmar is also the current chair of the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission.

Karen Perez is representative of a new kind of Vail resident. An attorney, she works remotely, but is involved in the Vail Valley Business Women and other civic groups. She’s also a member of Vail’s planning board.

Any of these candidates would do well on the council. But the four candidates we’re recommending bring a mixture of personal, professional and community experience that’s hard to top.

Incumbent Kevin Foley is the longest-serving member of the council — all done within the town’s term-limit regulations. Foley is the quintessential working man in Vail, having experience in the lodging and restaurant business. He’s seen, and participated in, most of the town’s most contentious issues since the 1990s, including as a one-time member of the Vail Recreation District’s board of directors.

Foley is on Vail’s front lines nearly every day — he postponed an endorsement interview due to a large group coming in without notice to the restaurant at which he works.

He has a distinctive perspective about how the town works — and doesn’t — for the people who really make the place run. For a town with a focus on housing, that’s important.

Jen Mason also brings long experience in Vail to the council. When it comes to events, Mason’s tenure managing the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater gives her invaluable knowledge when it comes to understanding events and what it takes to lure and host them. Her current job as the executive director of the Colorado Snowsports Museum adds to that perspective.

Mason has visibly agonized over some decisions in the past, trying to find the balance between neighborhood wants and the town’s needs. She brings a thoughtful approach to those deliberations and listens to arguments for and against sometimes-divisive issues.

Kim Langmaid, the third incumbent running this year, has lived in the valley virtually her entire life. She knows what Vail used to be, and, learning at the feet of her parents and grandparents, knows first-hand about running a small business in a resort town.

Langmaid, the founder of Walking Mountains Science Center, often takes a little different view of various issues facing the council. She’ll almost always ask how just about anything can be more environmentally responsible, from new building projects to looking at more sustainable ways to heat the town’s streets.

That brings us to Barry Davis, the person who would be the rookie on the council. As a member of the Vail Commission on Special Events, Davis is no stranger to the town government and its operations. Davis has bought, run and sold several businesses in town, including Yellowbelly chicken, and has a keen understanding of the challenges and rewards of running a small business in town.

Davis is also a resident of the Chamonix townhomes neighborhood, living there with his wife and young son.

From hiring to housing to bringing a different perspective to the town’s ongoing debate about short-term rentals, Davis has the mix of experience and inquisitiveness that will serve Vail well in the coming years.

Again, Vail voters can’t make any bad choices this year, but Davis, Foley, Langmaid and Mason are the best of a good group.

Please, though, do your own research into these candidates. Our opinion should be just one data point among many. For more information, check out our voter guide at vaildaily.com.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Advertising Director Holli Snyder, Digital Engagement Editor Sean Naylor, Business Editor Scott Miller and Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd.

Our View: We are a ‘yes’ on 1A

Eagle County didn’t take the cautious route in proposing a new tax on tobacco and nicotine products.

But while it is a bit audacious, we support passage of question 1A on this fall’s ballot

In question 1A, the county is asking voters to impose a tax of 20 cents per cigarette — that’s $4 per pack — and 40 percent on the sale of all other tobacco and nicotine products. The money raised will go to public health and education efforts.

The measure is, in large part, the county’s response to the burgeoning popularity of vaping among local youth. This behavior isn’t unique to Eagle County. A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Colorado teens vape nicotine at twice the national average. Nationally, the parent company of grocery store chain City Market has announced that it is discontinuing the sale of vaping products.

Question 1A tax is part of the county’s three-pronged effort to battle the issue of teen tobacco and nicotine use. Earlier this year, the county raised the legal purchase age for tobacco and nicotine products to 21 years. Additionally, a new tobacco and nicotine licensing program will be instituted countywide.

But when it comes to really making an impact, there’s nothing as effective as hitting people in the pocketbook. According to a study by the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, a 10% increase in the price of cigarettes typically results in a 3% to 5% decrease in adult smoking prevalence. That same 10% increase typically results in a 6% to 7% decrease in youth smoking. Using that data as a guide, a 40% jump in price should have a marked impact on local smoking numbers.

Even as we state our support for question 1A, we want to acknowledge that this feels a bit like voting in a tax that only affects other people. According to statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, from 2015 to 2017 only around 10.2% of Eagle County’s adult population were smokers. An additional 4% of the adult male population of the county was identified as smokeless tobacco users. So, while we all get to weigh in on this new tax, nearly 90% will never have to pay it. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either a great deal or an unfair imposition.

Of course, proponents of the tax say their ultimate goal is to see no one paying the tax. Instead, they hope the high costs will spur people to give up smoking, chewing and vaping. They note that smoking cessation products such as nicotine patches, gum and lozenges are exempted from the tax.

In the end, we believe when people have to pay a substantially higher amount for a product, they think twice about whether they really want it. When it comes to a substance as addictive as nicotine and as carcinogenic as tobacco, thinking twice about buying is a very good idea.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Sales Manager Holli Snyder, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Business Editor Scott Miller and Director of Special Projects Edward Stoner.

Our View: Proposition DD is a safe bet for Colorado

There are two state measures on this year’s ballot and Proposition DD is unquestionably the least controversial and least complicated of the pair. It asks voters this basic question: Should sports betting be legalized and taxed with the majority of the proceeds going to fund state water projects?

In our view, the answer to that question is a definitive yes.

You don’t have to sell the importance of water to Coloradans. Locally in Eagle County, and around the state, it’s clear just how critical water is to our future and how important it is to protect our limited water resources as our population surges. 

Here’s a sobering statistic: Colorado’s population, which is estimated to be just under 6 million according to the most recent census data, is expected to reach 8 million by 2050. How are we going to manage all that growth and provide enough water to our state’s farmers?

Proposition DD is a step in the right direction to figuring out the answer to that question.

No, it won’t fund the state water plan in its entirety, and, yes, it may contribute to gambling addiction in casinos as sports betting comes online. 

The latter is a legitimate concern brought forth by opponents of the measure, who claim it is irresponsible to puts no limits on the amount a person can bet on sports and that, of the millions in potential revenue, only $130,000 each year is dedicated to gambling addiction services.

But what’s the alternative? Sports betting is already big business in Colorado, regardless of whether it takes place in a casino in Black Hawk or on the black market. 

According to reporting done by WestwordStanton Dodge, the Colorado-based in-house counsel for mobile sports-betting application operator DraftKings, claims there are an estimated 1.2 million bets placed annually in Colorado, resulting in over $2.5 billion in illegal wagers placed online through offshore websites. And that doesn’t even include black-market betting in your local sports bar.

In our view, just like the legalization of marijuana, the benefit of taking an industry that operates in the shadows and turning it into a legal one that will be regulated and taxed for the greater good is a no-brainer. 

Proposition DD is modeled off the Colorado Lottery, which provides money to the state’s parks and open spaces. The funds from Proposition DD would go to water projects statewide that support water conservation, river health and agriculture.

It’s a win for water, and it deserves a “yes” vote on your ballot.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Sales Manager Holli Snyder, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Business Editor Scott Miller and Director of Special Projects Edward Stoner.

Our View: Tax exemption questions deserve support

Eagle County voters are looking at a relatively short ballot this fall, with only a pair of state questions and a small handful of local ballot issues.

Two of those questions, 6A and 6B — for the Eagle Valley Library District and Eagle County Health Service District, also known as Eagle County Paramedic Services — are similar in that they’re asking voters for protection from future cuts in residential property rates.

Both districts are asking voters for relief from future property tax cuts due to the provisions of the state’s Gallagher Amendment.

That constitutional amendment, proposed and passed in 1982, sets a permanent ratio between the share of property tax paid by residential and non-residential property owners.

Here’s how it works: 

Residential property tax collections must make up no more than 45% of a town, county or special district’s property tax collections. The remainder is to be paid by non-residential property. That’s mostly commercial and agricultural property. 

As Colorado’s population has grown, so has the number of residential property taxpayers. To comply with Gallagher, residential taxpayers have seen a steady decline in the taxable percentage of their homes’ assessed values. At this point, the owner of a home pays roughly one-fourth of the tax rate of a similarly valued non-residential parcel.

Since the formula is applied uniformly across Colorado, rural areas that haven’t seen Front Range levels of residential growth have seen their property tax collections decline. That decline has public-safety implications.

For instance, the voters in the Gypsum Fire Protection District in 2016 passed a tax increase request to increase the district’s paid staff and upgrade its aging equipment.

By 2018 — before the 2016 measure’s collections had kicked in — Gallagher-mandated rate declines had taken away the voter-approved increase.

So the district in 2018 asked voters to exempt the district from further tax-rate declines imposed by Gallagher. It wasn’t a request for more money, but to keep funding levels voters had already approved. Voters passed that question in Gypsum, as did voters in the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District and numerous other special districts across the state.

This year, library district and ambulance district voters are being asked the same questions.

We think those requests have merit.

For the library district, maintaining property tax collections at current levels means maintaining services, from book purchases to programs for kids and seniors.

At the ambulance district, lives could be at stake. In addition to maintaining its current staff of about 70 people and keeping those people up to date with training, the district also has to regularly replace ambulances — at roughly $250,000 each — and pay for fuel, insurance, maintenance and all the other things necessary to keep any fleet of vehicles ready to roll at any moment.

The ambulance district estimates that by 2022 it could lose about $990,000 per year out of its current annual budget of roughly $13 million per year.

That’s unacceptable for a valleywide service in the business of saving lives.

Again, neither district is asking voters for more money — each is just asking to protect money they are collecting now from looming cuts.

Voting “yes” seems like a pretty painless way to maintain services at both these districts.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Sales Manager Holli Snyder, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Business Editor Scott Miller and Director of Special Projects Edward Stoner.

Our View: Enough already with the high-speed rail

Like the story of aliens stashed away at Area 51, high-speed rail to mountain resorts is an idea that simply won’t die.

The Denver Business Journal recently reported that a coalition of government and business groups commissioned a study to look into the feasibility of a high-speed rail line to the mountains.

The study found there would be some benefits in economic activity and tax revenue. But it didn’t take into account the cost of the project. According to the article, a 2014 study estimated the cost of building high-speed rail from Denver International Airport to the Eagle County Regional Airport at between $10.8 and $32.4 billion. That’s money that currently exists nowhere but in the minds of backers.

Good grief.

We all want thriving businesses in our communities, and visitors are the lifeblood of robust mountain resorts. And it’s no secret that driving to and from the resorts can be time-consuming and aggravating enough to discourage some potential guests.

On the other hand, there are some silver linings to the dark clouds of congestion.

Here in the Vail Valley, we often hear complaints about crowded ski slopes on busy days. Do we really want easier access to what some say are already-crowded slopes, restaurants and lodges?

Then there’s the cost. Given the 2014 study’s estimates — with a broad enough cost swing to be better defined as a wild guess — do we really want to spend some wildly variable, currently unfunded 11-figure sum of money to create a 24/7/365 solution to what’s now a problem roughly 110 days per year?

That should be enough, but here’s one more thing to think about: new residents.

The recent study indicates that a rail line could bring more than 3,300 new residents to the corridor. Where might those people live?

Making Denver’s Union Station a 60-minute rail ride from Edwards or Avon will create a new population of commuters, people who may or may not become involved in the communities where they sleep.

Do we as a state want to take on that kind of financial commitment? Do we as local residents want to put even more pressure on already-squeezed local housing markets? Do we really want to turn our valley into a resort/suburb?

It’s madness.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Advertising Director Holli Snyder and Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller.

Our View: BLM move is a mixed bag for the state, nation

Earlier this summer when the U.S. Department of the Interior announced its plan to relocate the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado politicians on both sides of the aisle applauded.

“Grand Junction is the perfect location for the BLM because of community support, a location closer to the land BLM manages and the positive impact it will have on our western Colorado economy,” said Gov. Jared Polis. “Hard to think of a better place to house the department responsible for overseeing our beloved public lands.”

Sen. Cory Gardner, described as the architect of the planned move, was equally effusive in his remarks.

“This is a smart decision that transcends political parties and will generate a positive economic ripple effect through the state of Colorado. I commend the Department of Interior for relocating the agency closer to the people it serves and the public lands it manages,” he said.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that government works better and is more accountable when it is located closer to the people it serves. As Coloradans, it’s also hard to argue against the accounting for the move. It is expected to bring 85 new employees to the state including 27 positions in Grand Junction. The new Grand Junction office would include the director, deputy director and their attendant staff. 

But what’s good for Colorado might not be great for the bigger picture of federal land management and environmental protection. The BLM has oversight for more than 247.3 million acres. It governs one-eighth of the country’s landmass.

Congress has tasked the BLM with managing those lands for various uses including recreation, livestock grazing, timber management and energy development. To achieve some of those goals, the BLM needs federal funding, so we can’t help but wonder if moving the BLM headquarters out of Washington, D.C., will have “out of sight, out of mind” consequences for the agency at budget time.

Those concerns were only heightened two weeks ago when the Interior Department named William Perry Pendley, a lawyer who has voiced support for the idea selling off millions of acres of federal lands to western states, to lead the BLM. Taken together, the two moves smell like an effort to minimize the influence of the BLM and backtrack decades of environmental work.

Much of western Eagle County is BLM land, including the Hardscrabble Special Recreation area, the State Bridge Recreation Site, the Wolcott Campground, the Bocco Mountain Trailhead, the Deep Creek camping area, the Lyons Gulch Boat Launch, the Cottonwood Island boat ramp and picnic site, the Gypsum Hills Recreation Area and several other sites.

Like most things in life, moving the BLM executive offices to western Colorado is a mixed bag. The state would definitely benefit from the action, but if the federal agency’s work and influence are diminished, would those local gains be worth the cost?

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Special Projects Director Edward Stoner, Business Editor Scott Miller and Ad Director Holli Snyder.

Our View: Trailer park owners must be taken to task

You want to talk about workforce housing in the Vail Valley? That conversation has to start with the Eagle River Village mobile home park in Edwards.

There are currently 381 mobile homes in the park along both sides of U.S. Highway 6 at the west end of Edwards. It’s estimated that more than 2,000 people live there — around 7% of the valley’s workforce.

And all those park residents who power our valley’s resort economy are stuck with some of the dirtiest drinking water in the state. 

More than a half dozen residents, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from ownership and management, have told the Vail Daily that the well water at the park is undrinkable. They say it smells, as well as tastes and looks bad. One woman said she had a neighbor who had to sell her trailer because her daughter would get blisters whenever she would bathe her. 

This is not a new problem. The water-quality issues at the park date back at least 40 years, according to former residents. 

In a valley as affluent as ours, how is this even possible? 

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about how to solve the valley’s workforce housing crisis and where those developments should go. We can scream about the dwindling bighorn sheep herd in East Vail and the proposed Booth Heights development. 

But first, let’s talk about fixing the damn water at Eagle River Village. It’s a stain on our community and speaks volumes about how we treat workers in this valley.

The solution seems so obvious: Ascentia, the Littleton, Colorado-based real estate holding company that owns the park and five others in Colorado, needs to come back to the negotiating table on a heavily-subsidized deal to connect the trailer park to the local water system.

According to those with knowledge of the framework of the deal, Ascentia was offered a deal to pay $500,000 upfront and $365,000 a year for 10 years in a low-interest loan to connect to the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority system. That investment, plus about $600,000 of Ascentia’s existing water rights, represented a little over half the overall $4.4 million cost of connecting to the system.

The rest of the nearly $2 million would have been covered by Eagle County dedicating $1.2 million in water rights from the Eagle Park Reservoir, a $500,000 impact investment from the Eagle County Community Foundation and $200,000 from the water authority foregoing an annual rate adjustment. 

Financial analysts familiar with the proposed tie-in deal told the Vail Daily that Eagle River Village is Ascentia’s flagship property in its seven-state portfolio, grossing more than $5 million a year based off its land leases. 

Add it all up, and it’s clear that the park is a cash cow. The park’s owners need to be held accountable for not providing the most basic of services, and the county needs to step in if Ascentia won’t deal. 

Eagle County officials certainly have the power to act. A new state law gives counties the right to start drafting regulations at private parks that fail to meet public safety standards. 

But this doesn’t just have to fall entirely to county officials to find a solution. What about the businesses whose workers live in the park? What about the various chambers of commerce in this valley? What about civic organizations?

State officials say the water at the trailer park meets minimum safety standards, per the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. But is the minimum standard acceptable in one of the richest counties in the state? 

The answer is no. It’s time to find a permanent solution that provides drinkable water to such a huge percentage of our workforce, who also happen to be our friends and neighbors.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Special Projects Director Edward Stoner, Business Editor Scott Miller and Ad Director Holli Snyder.

Our View: Time to move on from chairlift, EagleVail

Kudos to the Forest Service and Vail Resorts for halting the pursuit an ill-advised idea to add a chairlift from EagleVail to Beaver Creek.

A chairlift in the neighborhood has been envisioned since EagleVail was built. But 40 years ago, Vail Resorts, the Forest Service and the Division of Wildlife deemed the area elk habitat. And for at least 30 years, the Division of Wildlife — now Colorado Parks and Wildlife — has been saying it wouldn’t support a chair going through the sensitive wildlife habitat.

In the last year, the issue of disappearing wildlife in the valley has come to the forefront. Local elk populations have dropped 40% over the last two decades. Wildlife officials point to both recreation and development as reasons for the drop.

And wildlife was just one of the reasons to nix the idea. The undertaking would be large for a project of questionable necessity. The lift would have been 11,250 feet long, making it the longest in North America — a bit longer than the 11,012-foot Slide Brook Express at Sugarbush, Vermont. 

Myriad issues of traffic and parking, including how they affect Homestake Peak School, added to the complications. The increase of property values was enticing to homeowners on the east side of the neighborhood; but what would it do to EagleVail’s neighborhood identity as a bastion for young families and workers?

Somehow, the proposal stuck around for years, even after a proposed sales tax that was partially intended to fund the lift failed in 2016.

As recently as April, some members of the EagleVail Metro Board and EagleVail Property Owners Association were pushing for a $15,000 study to identify major flaws in the idea.

The flaws were so obvious, no money was actually required. Thank goodness Vail Resorts and the Forest Service put an end to this dream that somehow would not die. We need more community leaders taking a stand to protect our dwindling wildlife in the valley.

That includes continuing to examine the effects on wildlife of the Berlaimont proposal near Edwards and the Booth Heights workforce housing proposal in East Vail. We are not saying those projects should be rejected — the East Vail proposal in particular addresses another big problem in our community, worker housing —  but we need to seriously consider the wildlife protections measures that are suggested by the experts such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

We also urge local leaders and recreationalists to uphold the regulations around the new Everkrisp trail and the planned lift expansion into McCoy Park. In fact, we would like to see Vail Resorts and trail advocates take measures to go beyond the required actions — something akin to the above-and-beyond steps taken to create Trail Ambassador programs and signage for seasonal closures on valley trails.

Let’s leave this chairlift idea behind once and for all and move to solving real problems in our community — including housing and wildlife protection.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Special Projects Director Edward Stoner, Business Editor Scott Miller and Ad Director Holli Snyder.

Our View: Don’t panic about the most recent I-70 survey

This newspaper last week picked up a story from our colleagues at the Summit Daily News about an Interstate 70 user survey. The news seemed dire: People seem to be coming to mountain communities along I-70 less often.

The survey was conducted by RRC Associates for the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving conditions on the interstate. More than 450 people who park at park-and-ride lots near Morrison were interviewed, and their responses do seem sobering: Roughly two-thirds of respondents said traffic congestion has affected how often they travel to the mountains.

That’s not good news and will reinforce those calling for the state and its recreation industry to do something about I-70 congestion. And that’s where the real problems would arise.

The fact is that I-70 congestion is almost entirely a weekend problem. Any realistic solution, from highway widening to building a technically feasible but wildly unaffordable rail line, would be likely to create more problems than solutions.

Even if the billions needed for any kind of real solution could be somehow pried out of either state coffers or users’ pockets, do we really want a 24/7/365 solution to what’s roughly a 100-day problem?

The prospect of a roughly 60-minute train trip between Edwards and downtown Denver would almost certainly put more pressure on home inventories and prices. An even quicker trip between Frisco and Denver would add more pressure on that area’s housing inventory and prices.

Increased land costs would also further hamper efforts to create workforce housing for locals.

That’s just one possible downside to easier access to the mountains.

And with the full understanding that the economies of mountain resorts depend on visitors, do we really want to open up our communities to the potential of thousands more guests?

Visitors are always welcome, of course, but what does easier access do to the character of our communities?

Weekend traffic on I-70 can stink much of the time — and is actually heavier in the summer — and with the state’s continued population growth, that isn’t going to change. But the reality is that people still come. Incremental changes — from toll lanes to tire laws to continued work to keep the interstate open during snowstorms — can help, without endangering the reasons people come to the mountains in the first place.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Special Projects Director Edward Stoner, Business Editor Scott Miller and Ad Director Holli Snyder.