Tolls proposed for Eisenhower Tunnel project | VailDaily.com

Tolls proposed for Eisenhower Tunnel project

Christine McManus/Summit County Correspondent

BRECKENRIDGE – Drivers might some day pay tolls to get out of traffic jams on U.S. Highway 9 and at the Eisenhower Tunnel.

The state’s primary road authority, the Colorado Department of Transportation –or, CDOT – commissioned a study of 43 possible toll roads across the state.

Toll suggestions for Highway 9 and the Eisenhower Tunnel survived the first of several cuts from the original 300 toll road proposals.

“Realistically, only a handful of the toll proposals will make it through the process,” said Peggy Catlin, the deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation. “This is not a final list by any means.”

CDOT does not have the authority to install toll booths on Interstate 70. But the state might consider drilling a tunnel above the Eisenhower Tunnel, charging drivers who want to use the extra tunnel.

A toll road is proposed on Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge.

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Summit County residents and visitors might be charged to drive between Frisco and Breckenridge until the cost of a proposed four-lane expansion is paid off. Cost estimates were not available.

The details are slim so far because proposals are in beginning stages. The final list of toll booth proposals that CDOT will carry through the environmental studies stage is due in July, Catlin said.

Catlin also is the acting director of CDOT’s Colorado Tolling Enterprise, which formed in January to find additional revenue for state highway projects. CDOT’s funding has dropped with the soft economy from more than $1 billion to about $870 million annually.

That annual budget does not include potential tolls. The state will consider raising $4 billion through tolls for new road-expansion projects over the next 20 years.

I-70 is in the last stages of an Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement study that is focusing on asphalt over mass transportation. As funding currently stands, CDOT would have only $1 billion to spend on the High Country’s transit lifeline in the next 20 years.

That means little significant work can be done quickly but the fact also creates a case for toll funding. On weekends, traffic backups are already significant enough that CDOT estimates some people are deterred from traveling to the High Country.

CDOT has been hosting public comment forums regarding plans to deal with traffic backups on I-70 between Denver and Eagle County. The state is narrowing down potential options.

In the meantime, CDOT is also trying to find more money for road projects across the state. Tolls collected on Highway 9, for example, could be used to expand the state highway from two lanes to four lanes with a median.

“We had no idea CDOT was considering Highway 9 as a toll road,” said Summit County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom. “I plan to call CDOT about this.”

CDOT commissioned a transportation firm in South Carolina to study 43 major travel corridors. The firm will be watching major Colorado highways, eyeing roads that have the potential to attract drivers who would pay tolls.

Local officials are still waiting for CDOT’s study of four-laning Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge.

Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen said it’s now expected some time in 2004.