Summit leaders prefer I-70 expansion before rail |

Summit leaders prefer I-70 expansion before rail

Christine McManus/Summit County Correspondent

Other topics included tolls on Highway 9 and Copper Mountain parking overflow.

Summit County leaders now favor an expansion of I-70 to six lanes. They also favor additional tunnels next to existing tunnels.

But buses are not a viable alternative, Summit County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom said, and should therefore be taken off the list of transit projects the Colorado Department of Transportation is considering to ease congestion on the mountain stretch of I-70.

Although the Colorado Department of Transportation –or, CDOT – took the monorail option off the list, Summit County leaders want it on the preferred list of future improvements to alleviate congestion.

The monorail, or a similar rail project, was the county’s first-choice until now. Summit county commissioners weighed CDOT’s preferences, and they have heard feedback supporting their decision to make I-70 expansion the first priority, Lindstrom said.

CDOT’s Region 1 transportation director, Jeffrey Kullman, asked whether a pending pact between Summit and neighboring counties – sponsored by Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder – would also request that the rail option be listed as a viable alternative. Counties and towns along I-70 are considering banding in an official capacity to negotiate with CDOT on the I-70 issue.

The pending pact will not solely be for the purpose of advocating for a rail option, Lindstrom said.

Commissioner Tom Long noted Kullman’s map, which was distributed at the quarterly meeting, did not extend any options (especially not a rail option) to Denver, much less Denver International Airport.

Since 1995, Summit County has been asking for regional and statewide cooperation on a seamless rail from DIA to Eagle County Airport. CDOT has said different agencies would handle the mountain and Front Range portions of a railway, if one were ever planned at all.

Kullman said stretching the I-70 map to DIA would erroneously imply that environmental studies were underway east of C-470, or that CDOT was trying to compete with Denver’s Regional Transportation District bus system.

CDOT’s narrowed list of ways to deal with I-70 will be ready for the public eye in April, Kullman said. The final decision of how to reduce I-70 congestion will not be made by CDOT until 2005.

Summit’s commissioners also asked Kullman about the surprise toll lane option on Highway 9, which appeared in newspapers last month before any county leaders knew of the proposal.

CDOT’s Doug Aden said administrators mistakenly thought Summit officials were on the contact list.

“When you have limited funds and only two or three ways to pay for highway projects, tolling becomes a more viable option when the taxes aren’t rolling in,” Kullman said.

If toll booths are installed on Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge, they would become permanent to pay for ongoing maintenance and other highway projects, Kullman said. Lindstrom suggested a local taxing district as an alternative to tolls along Highway 9.

Meanwhile, Copper Mountain wants help from CDOT, Summit County and Frisco, when its parking lots overflow. On the busiest weekends of the year when Copper Mountain parking lots overflow, Copper wants temporary, flashing signs before I-70 Frisco exits to divert traffic into the town.

Copper visitors would then take the free Summit Stage buses to Copper.

Frisco officials might not want the headache of the extra traffic from Copper.

Parking is one of the main concerns county officials have with Copper’s application for expansion.

Plans will be drafted this year for a four-lane expansion and landscaped medians along Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge at a cost of $1.5 million of the $80 million total project cost. But construction will not start this year on Highway 9.

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