Vail Daily letter: Use the railroad corridor
July 27, 2016
It is common knowledge that a shortage of housing is an extreme issue. I appreciate that Vail Resorts has agreed to spend $30 million in its resort communities to help construct employee housing and resolve this issue. With a strong economy comes high costs of property acquisition for housing projects. Therefore, the cost per benefited employee today is high. A second major issue in the county is a shortage of parking. The Department of Transportation seems set on widening Interstate 70 to more expeditiously bring more people to our communities. Where do those vehicles get parked once they arrive? I would like submit for your consideration an alternative solution to the housing shortage and the secondary issue of parking shortages in Eagle County.
The "Vail Valley" stretches along Interstate 70 from approximately Vail to Dotsero — a distance of more than 40 miles. Due to the high cost of living up-valley, many full-time residents choose to live farther west in Eagle, Gypsum and Dotsero. Leadville, located south of Interstate 70, is also a more affordable community for employees.
Although ECO Transit offers bus service throughout the county, most employees opt to drive their personal vehicles to and from the resorts. I believe this is because the bus service can double the length of their commute. One parking space taken by an employee at the resort is one less space available for a customer.
There is a semi-abandoned railroad that stretches almost the entire length of the county — from east of Dotsero to Dowd Junction where it turns south to travel through Minturn and Leadville. I have long thought passenger service on that old railroad was the key to solving the housing and parking issues within the county and I believe an investment of several million dollars from Vail Resorts would be the spark to get it going.
The railroad goes directly through each community. Service could start in Dotsero and terminate in Minturn. It could eventually be extended to Glenwood Springs and Leadville. Each community could take responsibility for constructing its own stop along the line. Instead of sending large buses cross-county — dealing with weather and traffic delays — ECO Transit could instead partner with the towns to offer in-town shuttle service to the train stops. Since the railroad does not go through Vail, the town would need to expand its bus service to a train station in Minturn or construct a spur to bring rail service into town.
The result of convenient, affordable and fast public transportation across the county means that employee housing can be constructed by private developers at more reasonable costs down-valley. Additionally, a large parking structure could be constructed between Vail and Avon so that employees and guests could park there and easily access either resort. No longer would there be a need to park on the Frontage Roads in Vail during busy days.
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I appreciate your willingness to consider this alternative to expensive up-valley housing that will benefit a limited number of employees.
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