I-70 shows off two kinds of politics | VailDaily.com

I-70 shows off two kinds of politics

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

No one will argue that weekend traffic on Interstate 70 can be a pain in the neck. But politics seems to be getting in its own way in search of solutions.

In the last week, we’ve seen two kinds of politics at work, and both play into some old stereotypes.

The newest comes courtesy of State Senator Chris Romer of Denver. After weeks of research and gathering comments from a Web site, Romer unveiled plans to introduce a bill this spring that would establish a host of tolls and restrictions on I-70.

Romer’s been smacked around pretty thoroughly for his ideas, that might, just might, cut peak winter weekend traffic by 10 percent, and will certainly make using the highway less convenient.

The idea of tolls is perhaps the most odious idea, since, no matter what Romer or anyone else says, the idea is to get people to drive during off-peak hours by charging a fee to drive when traffic is heaviest. Coloradans are barely willing to pay tolls to drive on new, uncongested roads. Paying to use a road that’s still running 90 percent of its peak traffic seems like an idea just looking for a beat-down.

Combine that with the proposed use of traffic cameras to see how many people are riding in cars (a really unscientific survey of cars on a recent commute showed perhaps one-third of vehicles have window tints that would make it impossible to see passengers beyond the front seats) and you have a libertarian’s nightmare.

The fact is there’s little good about Romer’s proposal. Appropriately, he’s been catching flak from his Web commenters and various commercial interests, including the state’s powerful trucking lobby. And unless the truckers get behind any idea for the interstates, that idea dies.

Romer seems unfazed. Big ideas take bold solutions, he says, and charging people to drive on highways they’re already paying for is the kind of bold action that’s needed.

It’s an almost stereotypical example of a politician who by-golly knows what’s best for people, even if they didn’t vote for him (which in this case, is the majority of the people Romer is trying to “help” with his plan).

But Romer’s also been catching a good bit of heat from other politicians, among them fellow Senator Dan Gibbs, who represents Summit County in the legislature. You remember Summit County, one of the places outside Romer’s Denver district that stands to benefit or suffer from any changes to I-70 through the mountains.

Gibbs told the Rocky Mountain news that he’s “disappointed” in Romer’s rush to introduce a bill, especially since a coalition of local governments and business representatives is working on its own set of solutions.

Which brings us to the other side of the political coin.

Traffic jams on the interstate have been with us for a long time. The Colorado Department of Transportation has spent years studying the highway. A state “Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” has been in the works as long as just about anyone can remember, and various proposed solutions have brought howls of protest from people because of a perceived over-reliance on adding pavement to an already-tight highway corridor.

Into this mess has come the I-70 Coalition, the very political definition of “herding cats.” The coalition plans to release its proposals to ease highway congestion this summer.

Given the various interests and demands of the parties, the work of this group has been admirable ” although seemingly far too focused on an impossibly expensive rail system as a long-term solution ” but the coalition plays into another stereotype, of government studying problems forever and never doing anything.

The whole Romer-Gibbs-I-70 Coalition brouhaha also reinforces the public’s opinion that government officials are lousy at talking to each other.

A real solution ” along with the all-important money to pay for it ” may come out of all the studying, consensus-building and desire for action now, doggone it, but at the moment, weekend traffic is dreadful, and there’s no end in sight. Doing something is essential, but pursuing screwy ideas or proposing solutions there’s no money to pay for doesn’t help anyone.

Business editor Scott Miller writes about valley business every week. Send your suggestions to smiller@vaildaily.com.

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