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Keep I-70 clogged

Alan Braunholtz
Vail CO, Colorado

Two more lanes are being assessed for west Vail Pass. These will be for slow moving traffic to make the pass safer because it has a higher accident rate than either the stretch 10 miles to the east past Copper Mountain or the stretch 8 miles to the west, which I’m guessing ends just before Dowd Junction.

Safety is good, but I wonder if the extra lanes won’t encourage even faster driving. Perhaps people will underestimate the conditions and/or overestimate their vehicle’s ability, and the resulting accidents will be more severe. If you want to reduce accidents caused by excessive speed, why not enforce a lower speed limit? Even with three lanes, the interstate between the Eisenhower Tunnel to Frisco has a lower speed.

Part of the expansion project calls for “implementing sediment control measures to improve water quality in Black Gore and Gore creeks” as well as improving the neighboring bike and walking trail. The Gore creeks are already half-buried by road sand. To push a project that adds two extra lanes of sand as part of the solution to sediment seems backward. First, prove you have the willpower and expertise to control the sand and gravel, then ask for an expansion. If you can’t do it now why would you be able to do it then? Or at least be honest and say, “too bad, but driving comes first in most people’s minds.”



Before you know it there’ll be more lanes added ” “for safety only, of course.” Why not just connect them and bingo, we have a six-lane highway from Denver to Grand Junction.

Highway expansion is often an inefficient, unfair and uneconomic way to solve traffic congestion. We can’t keep pace with traffic growth. Congestion limits traffic growth because people make choices to avoid driving through congestion. Expand the roads and then people decide to live further away, promoting sprawl and unexpected extra travel. Shopping at peak times across town doesn’t seem so bad and soon all those extra lanes fill up again. A 1998 study of Phoenix freeways found a 10 percent increase in lane capacity generates a 9 percent increase in congestion. You end up with the same peak time congestion but with more traffic, more accidents, more sprawl, more pollution, more parking, more bottlenecks at the end points. It’s not a smart choice. Also all those dire predictions of grid-locked highways aren’t realistic either; congestion limits traffic growth.

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As a country we already spend $10 billion a year less than is needed to maintain the highways we have. Adding new roads should be done very carefully. Fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees finance only about two-thirds of roadway costs. The difference comes from general taxes, so road building is unfair to those who use them less. Motorists really don’t embrace the user pays concept and instead expect others to pay for their roads. One reason we drive so much is because we’re not paying the true economic cost of driving.

I-70 only reaches capacity on the weekends when visitors looking to recreate in the mountains. As a valley we benefit economically from this weekend surge though it does come close to overwhelming our infrastructure and, depending on your point of view, certain aspects of our quality of life. Why should other road users and general taxpayers subsidize this weekend influx of mainly very expensive SUVs?

We’ve embraced the car’s ability to overcome time and space constraints to the point of idiocy and we’re destroying its usefulness (and the planet) through overuse. Commuting 100 miles a day to work doesn’t really make sense. Driving 200 miles for four hours of skiing says a lot about the allure of snow sports, but it’s questionable logic. Resorts already provide peak and non-peak rates to encourage use when they have the capacity. Why not apply that same mentality to roads?



Regardless of where you stand it’s worth checking out what the ideas for West Vail Pass and I-70 are. Check out http://www.westvailpass.com if you live near it, drive on it, cycle up it, fish in the valley or breathe. That should be about all of us.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a biweekly column for the Daily. Send comments to editor@vaildaily.com.


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