Myth fuels mantra about I-70
Let’ see if I have this right:
We’re losing visitors, or in constant danger thereof, because Interstate 70 congestion makes it so hard to get here.
We’ve built more lodging and such to accommodate the influx of more visitors. More resort development for the same reason is on tap.
And wow, have more skiers made the slopes more dangerous or what?
This is the stuff of a Yogi Berra line: “The place is so popular no one goes there anymore.”
But seriously, the mantra about I-70 traffic killing business in the Vail Valley has been at odds with the evidence for nearly 20 years now.
The truth is I-70 congestion has mattered little to not at all when it comes to our flood of visitors in summer and winter.
It doesn’t stop Vail from filling to overflowing on key weekends. And the ease of driving as fast as the State Patrol will let you on weekdays doesn’t exactly deliver crowds then.
So why do we keep pretending I-70 traffic is big problem? If anything, it helps solve one.
I can hear your snorts from here. How could that be?
Well, more folks who are put out with longer drives on certain weekends are more likely to come earlier and/or leave later — and stay more nights.
Unlike those earnest declarations of woe over I-70 during community meetings, there’s actually some evidence for my assertion. Eisenhower Tunnel traffic flow statistics suggest some motorists at least try to time their drives outside the highest peak periods.
If gridlock lays a cap on the biggest crowds, well, that’s good, too. How much more than filled to capacity do you think the ski mountains and towns really need?
We’re already packed during our busy season weekends, and not so much during weekdays. How many times do we need to see the Frontage Roads lined to the golf course with parked cars, to languish in eternal lift lines, or try to find a restaurant with a wait shorter than an hour to understand this?
The groupthink here is astounding. So much gnashing of teeth over a crisis that doesn’t even exist. And worse: The consensus “solution” would only exacerbate the real problem by speeding even more people up during already packed weekends.
Now we’re panicked by Park City, no doubt with Vail Resorts taking over two of the three ski mountains there.
But the Olympic venue has always been 37 miles from Salt Lake City’s airport, compared to 120 miles from Denver International Airport to Vail. If the drive is what matters, well, Park City would have the edge even if Colorado threw billions and billions of dollars at a 100 mph maglev train.
In other words, an argument to compete with Park City on access is absurd.
Ah, unless you bring Eagle County’s airport into the conversation. Flying here at least brings the driving distance into the SLT-Park City range.
Our real challenge with access isn’t I-70, but enticing airlines to pick up costly routes from major cities directly to Eagle County Regional Airport. While our visitor numbers have grown over the years, the number of people flying into our airport has dropped — by quite a bit, actually.
Our airport competition in Steamboat and Telluride in particular has the better of us. Steamboat uses a 0.25 percent sales tax to support financial guarantees to airlines. Telluride uses a 2 percent lodging tax for this. Vail Resorts provides winter guarantees, and Eagle County’s business community raises funds for this in the summer. Aspen manages to surpass us with relatively few such guarantees.
The local Air Alliance has dropped hints about seeking a small tax to provide a steady funding source for airline guarantees here. Nothing has appeared on a ballot yet, but the idea has some merit as a legitimate investment in our economy. At least there’s some actual evidence showing that guests who fly here make a difference.
This makes a lot more sense than wailing about I-70, where we’ve made up a mountain of a myth out of mere inconvenience.