Could banning truckers at peak times reduce I-70 woes?
VAIL, Colo. – It’s no surprise that Interstate 70 is a traffic nightmare during peak ski travel times to and from the Front Range – and fixes to the problem will likely cost billions.
That’s why Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, a former Colorado legislator, is thinking of ways to help reduce traffic that he says won’t cost much.
Gibbs sponsored a zipper lane bill in the Colorado General Assembly last year that would use movable 300-pound barriers to add an extra lane between Floyd Hill and the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnels. He also helped pass legislation that added more chain-up areas for truckers along Interstate 70 as well as raise fines for truckers who don’t chain up.
His latest plan is to study truck traffic along Interstate 70 and see if restricting trucks from the interstate during peak times could also help ease congestion.
The Colorado Department of Transportation earlier this month released its final Interstate 70 mountain corridor programmatic environmental impact statement, a planning document for improvements along the interstate, estimating that the most basic improvements along the corridor would cost about $2 billion.
The big fixes would cost as much as $20 billion, according to the document.
“We appropriate $1 billion a year for the whole state,” Gibbs said. “You look at something on I-70 costing $20 billion, but the state just doesn’t have the money for that right now. I think there’s a major frustration in Colorado as to why we can’t make certain improvements that would improve traffic flows.”
Gibbs sees Interstate 70 congestion as a weekend-specific problem, so why not look into how truckers relate to that problem and how they might be able to help fix it, he said.
If truckers are forced off the interstate for three or so hours, during those peak travel times, Gibbs thinks it could help.
“I just think I-70 is at a breaking point and I think we need to push some of these alternatives that don’t cost $20 billion, and that could have a meaningful impact,” Gibbs said.
Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, said the trucking industry appreciates and shares the frustration over Interstate 70 congestion – truckers don’t like sitting in traffic any more than skiers or other drivers.
Fulton said truckers already try to avoid the peak travel times, but sometimes the trucks simply need to be on the road.
Truckers follow strict federal laws about how long they can drive and when they must rest.
“It’s a much more complex issue than people understand,” Fulton said. “Our control over our schedule is not as great as people may think.”
Fulton sees a lot of potential problems with Gibbs’ idea. He said truckers would have to idle their vehicles to stay warm and pointed out that there isn’t enough truck parking along the interstate as it is.
And while local truckers might be able to adapt to the restriction during peak travel times, what about truckers driving from other parts of the country?
Interstate 70 is one of two major east-west interstate routes in the country, meaning truckers coming through from Florida or New York would have difficulty scheduling their trips around such closures, Fulton said.
“When you do a broad (restriction of trucks) all together, you really need to understand there’s a lot of things that get caught up in there – a lot of impacts,” Fulton said.
Gibbs said the proposal is really just an idea at this point. He’s not to the point where he’s shopping it around to state legislators asking them to sponsor it as a bill.
“We have to gather as much information as possible,” Gibbs said.
Fulton said the trucking industry is prepared to do what it can to help, but that it’s going to take a range of solutions.
“We’re willing to look on our side of it – it doesn’t lend itself to easy solutions,” Fulton said.
Vail Resorts is trying to do its part in reducing traffic by offering several promotions for skiers and snowboarders from the Front Range market.
Vail Mountain marketing director Adam Sutner said there’s been a fundamental change in the way Front Range visitors travel to the mountains.
“They’re traveling up for Friday skiing and returning Sunday at their convenience, rather than leaving traditionally at the end of Sunday skiing,” Sutner said.
Vail Resorts and the local lodging community in Vail have been marketing a promotion that tries to get people to view Thursday as the new Friday. It includes three-night stay packages that include various lift pass offers and other incentives to try to get people to come up on Thursday evening rather than Friday or Saturday.
Vail Mountain and the town of Vail are also looking into some parking incentives for the 2011-12 season, including car pool incentives for people with four or more people in the car. Incentives would include anything from parking discounts to on-mountain food and ski school discounts, Sutner said.
Gibbs said it’s ideas like those, which involve various towns and businesses coming together to try to fix the problem, that will ease traffic in the short-term.
“There’s a lot we can do without having to spend $20 billion and having to plan for another 20 years on potential improvements,” Gibbs said. “I think we can make improvements immediately, but they won’t solve all of the problems, either.”
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