I-70 drives us nuts | VailDaily.com

I-70 drives us nuts

Ken Neubecker

Sometimes it seems that we are being led into the future backwards. The past can be a guide, but it is not a blueprint. If it were we’d all still be chasing after an elk for a bit of dinner and a new coat. Yet I wonder how much our “leaders” realize this.The I-70 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) was just released. The PEIS explores and recommends solutions for increasing traffic and mobility, or lack of it, along the I-70 corridor in the mountains. After more than three years and millions of dollars spent, the public has a chance to see the future envisioned by CDOT. How do the experts see us moving through the mountains in 2025? The same way we have in the past. CDOT will simply apply more asphalt, making the problem even bigger.The preferred alternative that CDOT envisions will create a six-lane highway from Floyd Hill to the east portal of the Eisenhower Tunnel and again between West Vail and the west side of Edwards. Two tunnels will be bored through Dowd Junction to accommodate and straighten this new highway. Another pair of tunnels will be bored between the Twin Tunnels east of Idaho Springs and Floyd Hill. As a bonus they’ve added reversible/HOV/HOT lanes.Mass transit was also tossed in; busses in a separate “guideway”. You can catch a bus from Silverthorne up to the west side of the Tunnel, but not back down. You can also take the bus in both directions between C-470 to the east side of the Tunnel. Just what I’ve always wanted to do; take a bus from Golden to the east portal of the Tunnel. Then what? Take a cab the rest of the way to Silverthorne so I can catch the bus back up to the Tunnel, then another cab to get through the Tunnel?You can’t even stop anymore to use the rest rooms at the tunnel, so why on earth would you want to take a bus there?Gilpin and Clear Creek Counties are considered “pass through” places while trying to get to Summit and Eagle Counties. Adding mass transit that only goes to the Tunnel, falling far short of most needed destinations, is worse than useless. It is nothing more than a bald-faced attempt to make it look like CDOT incorporated the transit idea when it really just gives them an excuse to drop the whole idea later on. Besides, the walled in “guideways” set in the median will become hopelessly choked with snow, becoming completely useless in the winter.There are other alternatives in the mix like a monorail or ground rail. These alternatives were pretty well dismissed before the discussion began. They are seen as expensive and unrealistic. Besides, that’s not what CDOT does. CDOT is into highways, not Transportation. CDOT has fought every attempt to provide mass transit, especially rail systems. They vigorously fought the Fast Tracks proposal on the Front Range. Fortunately the voters were more realistic about their transportation needs.Now it’s our turn and the last thing we need is more “traffic as usual.” What happens after 2025? Add more lanes? The PEIS clearly shows that mass transit alternatives, especially rail and AGS, or monorail, are by far the best choice for accommodating the projected travel demands through 2025 and beyond. Maybe we can completely pave over Idaho Springs and Georgetown. We can “bury” I-70 through Vail, but not for additional real estate. We’ll need that surface for the new lanes.Once the whole PEIS process is completed, CDOT will start paving over the mountains. It will take many years to complete these new lanes and tunnels. There will be cost overruns and other additions to the budget. Yet these “preferred alternatives” are being chosen primarily because of their lower cost. In twenty years these new lanes will open and the cost will have doubled or tripled. The number of cars and trucks on the road will also grow tremendously. Traffic will be moving, if moving at all, like it does today. The new lanes will be obsolete before they are finished, but at least we’ll have six lanes to be stuck in while we contemplate our shortsightedness.Black Gore Creek, Gore Creek, and all the other streams will be completely choked by a flood of traction sand and Mag-Chloride trying to keep the new lanes open. At best CDOT might only remove half the sand they put down on the road now. More lanes will only make it worse.Wildlife will have a wider gauntlet to run as they try to migrate between winter and summer range. CDOT crews will spend more time removing carcasses from the side of the road. Air pollution in the mountain valleys will increase as the quality of life decreases. We won’t make it any easier to get here, but then we will increasingly destroy any reason to come in the first place. Maybe that will thin the traffic.Everyone from Idaho Springs west that was on the Mountain Corridor Advisory Committee urged mass transit. We were ignored. A mass-transit rail system from Denver to the Eagle County Airport is a vision of the future with real potential for solving the I-70 corridors mobility needs. Unfortunately the “preferred alternative” seems pre-ordained and the whole PEIS process just a rubber stamp.The I-70 PEIS dog and pony show will be coming to the Avon Town Hall on January 26, 2005, from 4 to 7 p.m., with a presentation at 5:30 p.m. There will be other meetings in Silverthorne and Glenwood Springs as well. If enough of the public express themselves maybe the politicians will listen. I doubt CDOT will. They’re to busy looking in the rear view mirror. VTKen Neubecker writes about water and the environment for the Vail Trail. He can be reached for comment at eagleriver@eagleranch.com.

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