Rail planning for I-70 continues | VailDaily.com

Rail planning for I-70 continues

Bob Berwyn
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Although most of the work on I-70 has been behind the scenes recently, a group advocating for a rail corridor through the mountains is shifting into higher gear.

The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority held a meeting late last week to discuss its final version of a report that details the cost of building and operating rail lines along the mountain stretch of Interstate 70 and along Interstate 25 on the Front Range.

The report includes schematic drawings of the system. The group says the study focuses on proven technologies that could be ready for operation by 2020.

According to the draft version of the report, the east-west line from Denver International Airport to the Eagle County airport would cost about $15 billion. The north-south Fort Collins to Pueblo line would cost another $5 billion.

As always, the biggest question mark is finding the money, but the rail authority board makes the case that the rail lines would enhance Colorado’s overall transportation network at a time of rising oil prices and growing congestion.

About 80 percent of the funding would have to come from federal sources, with the rest generated from a combination of state, local and private funds. In particular, the rail authority is looking to the federal government for grants, citing the importance of the I-70 corridor as an “economic engine” for Colorado.

Rail planning could be helped by creation of a new state advisory committee on rail and transit. Earlier this year, the State Legislature created a new division of transit and rail within the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The new division has the authority to design, build and operate buses, rail lines and other modes of transit.

The new division within the Department of Transportation could help shift the bureaucratic balance away from highways toward mass transit, said Dr. Flo Raitano, director of the I-70 coalition.

One of the big challenges is integrating the work of the rail authority with the state’s ongoing study of I-70 congestion, Raitano said.

The long-term solution will involve both improvements to the highway as well as mass transit, she said.

“Transit is not going to address all the issues out there,” Raitano said.

The rail study nearing completion is aimed at establishing what can realistically be done in terms of mass transit.

Acknowledging public frustration with the slow pace of progress on highway improvements, I-70 coalition chairman Michael Penny recently outlined a potential timeline for work. If state and federal agencies can finish up their I-70 study on schedule in 2010, some smaller highway improvement projects could start in 2011, with major work to begin in 2017.

“This corridor serves as an interstate highway, a tourist avenue, and as our local road,” Penny wrote in an update for the I-70 Coalition Web site. “The solutions are complex and costly.”

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