I-70 ‘Zipper’ lanes keep rolling | VailDaily.com

I-70 ‘Zipper’ lanes keep rolling

VAIL – Local politicians hope proposed “zipper lanes” will be a way to keep cars – and money-spending tourists – streaming up to the mountains.

“It’s not the long-term fix to the I-70 corridor congestion problem, but it does provide some relief,” said Rep. Christine Scanlan, who represents Eagle County in the state House and co-sponsored a bill that urges more study on the plan.

But some wonder whether the plan is feasible.

“It’s certainly worth a try. I have some concerns about restricting traffic to a single lane when this is being used,” said Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland, citing slow trucks and the need for snow removal.

The zipper lanes would use a moveable barrier to create three westbound lanes instead of two on Interstate 70 when lots of cars are headed up to the mountain. It would create three eastbound lanes when people are headed back to the Front Range. The opposite directions would only have one lane while the other has three.

The zipper lanes would be installed along about 15 miles between Floyd Hill and Georgetown.

A bill that endorses the plan passed through the House on Friday by a 60-5 vote. It now heads to Gov. Bill Ritter for his signature. The bill urges the Colorado Department of Transportation to investigate the feasibility of the idea.

“Anything that speeds up those weekend bottlenecks is going to be good for the county,” said Peter Runyon, Eagle County commissioner. “That begs the question of whether or not (the zipper lanes) will do that. I think that’s what CDOT will be looking at. … I’m certainly not qualified as a traffic expert to say that it will do that.”

The zipper lanes would be more ideal in a five-lane configuration, where the center lane could simply switch directions, Runyon said.

Legislators see the plan as a low-cost, short-term alternative to something like a lane widening or a train, each of which could cost billions.

“We don’t have to invest billions,” said state Sen. Dan Gibbs, who co-sponsored the bill and represents Summit County. “This could be done for $23 million for 15 miles.”

If people are hesitating about heading to the mountains because of traffic headaches, the local economy is going to suffer, Gibbs said.

“The mountain communities are heavily dependent on tourists,” Gibbs said. “If it takes two to three hours to get from point A to B to go skiing or hiking or fly-fishing in the High Country, people will think twice about heading to that particular destination.

“I’m a big supporter of looking at both short- and long-term solutions for I-70, and this is not meant to be the end-all solution to I-70, but I think we need to start thinking outside the box.”

According to a 2007study by the Denver Metro Chamber, Colorado lost $839 million per year in tourism, business and trade revenue due to traffic jams on the interstate.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

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