Eagle County: Mountains wary of I-70 toll | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Mountains wary of I-70 toll

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” A state senator’s proposal to charge a toll of up to $5 on Interstate is getting mixed reviews from the mountain officials and businesses.

Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany’s Bill 213 would allow the toll between Eisenhower Tunnel and the outskirts of Denver. The money would go toward reducing congestion, which could involve anything from widening the freeway to building a mass transit system.

While most local leaders agreed that tolls will be part of future solutions, some were concerned that mountain communities were not asked to weigh in.

“They never once picked up the phone and talked to a single commissioner along the corridor about this,” Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said.

State Senator Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, and State Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, both opposed the bill. The Senate sought little input from mountain communities on the I-70 corridor and ignored studies already being done on the problem, they said in a letter.

“To us, I-70 is more than just a road between point A and point B. It is our Main Street. All we ask is that the people from those communities most impacted by I-70 legislation have a seat at the table when state leaders discuss how to make the changes we all know are needed,” the letter said.

The bill was later amended to suggest asking permission from corridor towns.

Members of the I-70 Coalition also said they are against the bill, because it does not consider the impacts on the corridor communities. The coalition is a group of mountain town officials, businesses and other stakeholders who are working with the Colorado Department of Transportation to find long-term solutions for the interstate.

They are currently doing several studies on possible solutions.

“We’re not opposed to tolls, but the way this bill handles it is adverse to the interests of the corridor,” Coalition Director Flo Raitano said.

Runyon said he is against a flat toll rate and wants to see toll exceptions for corridor residents, he said.

“They’re dependent on the corridor. This affects the residents up here just as much as it affects (the counties further east),” he said.

He would like to see the money from the toll go toward a long-term solution, such as a train system.

Anything that makes it more difficult to travel up the interstate ” such as stopping at a toll ” will hurt local businesses, said Michael Kurz of the Vail Valley Partnership, which represents more than 800 businesses in the valley.

“Traveling right now is already difficult. This (proposal) doesn’t seem well enough researched,” he said.

The ski resorts ” some of the biggest businesses in the mountains ” said they are holding back on weighing in, but watching the bill carefully.

“Solving this is going to involve the input of all the corridor stakeholders, and at this point, it’s too early to take any revenue generating ideas off the table,” said Jennifer Rudolph, spokesperson for Colorado Ski Country USA.

Vail Resorts spokesperson Amy Kemp said it is good that state officials are paying attention to the mountain traffic problem, but that tolls should be part of a bigger plan.

“There needs to be a comprehensive plan, a road map if you will,” she said.

However, few deny that whatever the traffic solution, implementing it will require money that the state does not have.

“Funding for transportation is woefully inadequate. Our ability to address the biggest problems on I-70 or any other interstate is hindered because of it,” said Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Stacey Stegman.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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