Few fans of state’s fixes for I-70
AVON – State officials have plenty of ideas for fixing traffic congestion on I-70 through Eagle County, but if you ask Nick Fickling, they all lack one fundamental thing: vision.”How do you want the Colorado mountains to be when this is over?” Fickling, an Avon resident, asked at a meeting Wednesday where state transportation officials discussed their ideas about reducing congestion on the freeway between Denver and Glenwood Springs. Most who spoke out agreed with Fickling. While the state agency clearly prefers widening I-70 to more high-tech and expensive options, plenty of High Country residents don’t. Their disagreement centers on priorities. The state agency is focused on affordable options – those that cost less than $4 billion, the spending limit set by transportation director Tom Norton. But many residents believe the focus should be on fixing the problem for several years to come, regardless of cost. “Where did the $4 billion number come from?” asked Stan Zemler, Vail’s town manager. “Clearly the correct solution will cost more than $4 billion.”In need of improvementTransportation officials predict that by 2025, if nothing along I-70 changes, it will take more than four hours in the winter to go from Vail to the C-470 interchange just outside of Denver. During the summer, it will take more than six hours to drive from that interchange to Vail.The state agency could simply expand I-70 to six lanes, three in each direction. This would require new tunnels through Dowd Junction and east of Idaho Springs. Another solution is adding two high-occupancy vehicle lanes – typically for vehicles containing two or more passengers. Those lanes could reverse directions during the busiest hours, such as Sunday evenings during the ski season when traffic heading east on I-70 backs up for miles.
Laying down more pavement isn’t the only way to go. Transportation officials also have considered building a light rail system or a so-called “advanced guideway system,” which essentially is a rail elevated above the road, such as a monorail. They’ve also considered adding buses that would run on a rail.State officials also have considered using combinations of highway expansion, buses and a railway. Doing nothing is not an option, transportation officials say, because it wouldn’t accommodate the demand for travel in 2025, which is expected to be about 17.5 million trips in a year through the Eisenhower Tunnel.People vs. The StateJust expanding the highway would meet that demand in 2025 and about one percent more, according to the transportation department’s study. A transit system – rail, advanced guideway or busing – could accommodate travel in 2025, plus about 4 to 6 percent more.A combination of expansion and mass transit could handle the most travel, with about 11 to 12 percent more than 17.5 million expected in 2025.However all options other than expanding the highway or adding a bus system exceed the $4 billion threshold. The state agency prefers busing or highway expansion. Several people at the Wednesday night meeting believe widening the highway is the worst option. Avon Councilwoman Kristi Ferraro said she wonders if widening the interstate will suppress tourism. “We could be killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” she said.
Laying down more pavement will also create more sand and sediment that could end up in Eagle County’s rivers, said Caroline Bradford, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council. Whatever is done to I-70, it should function beyond 2025, Bradford said.Quality of life issue?Some of the most vocal opponents of adding lanes to I-70 were Clear Creek residents who drove up for the meeting in Avon. Because the highway runs through a narrow canyon in Clear Creek County, any expansion of the road would require new lanes to be elevated over existing lanes.Trudy Rapp of Dumont accused the state agency of “abusing its discretion” by announcing its preference for widening the highway so early on. Rapp wanted a third-party to investigate the transportation department. “Your agency has widely paraded the decision that an (advanced guideway system) is dead,” she said. It will be noisy and the construction – expected to last about 15 years – will wreak havoc on the area, Clear Creek County residents fear. Others argue that by the time the expansion is finished it will no longer be able to accommodate traffic.Clear Creek County resident Ed Rapp said the cost of widening the interstate will be more than $4 billion anyway. “This would be all pain and no gain,” Rapp said.
Mass transit: The way of the future?Supporters of a rail or guideway system remain optimistic. As a community and a state, Colorado is really getting away from the “Californification” of one car to one person, said Amy Phillips, an Avon councilwoman. Phillips suggested I-70 could be an extension of the light rail system that will be built in Denver. Eagle County resident Peter Feistmann said he was most in favor of a bus system that would run between the east and west lanes of the interstate. But he wasn’t convinced people would ride buses, he said. “I would really want more information on what is being done to gain confidence that people will use buses,” Feistmann said. ===================================================Want to comment?The Department of Transportation is hosting several meetings in communities along the I-70 mountain corridor. The intent is to get public feedback on the department’s 12 ideas on how to fix congestion on the interstate. For more information, log on to http://www.i70mtncorridor.com. The I-70 study comment period has been extended to May 24.
Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado