Digging our way out of I-70 traffic congestion | AspenTimes.com

Digging our way out of I-70 traffic congestion

One easy way to tell when it’s winter in Colorado is that people talk a lot about ways to ease congestion on Interstate 70 between Denver and the ski resorts. One recent idea came from state Sen. Chris Romer, who proposed to charge people to drive during peak times, and use that money to pay people to drive I-70 at off-peak times.

It went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter, so he’s working on some refinements. Perhaps he’ll get further than I did awhile back, suggesting that all big trucks be banned from I-70 between Denver and Grand Junction. Freight for the ski resorts would go by train from Pueblo to Minturn along the Tennessee Pass rail line, currently out of service. Removing the trucks would effectively add capacity to the highway, and the state could buy the unused rail line, restore it and lease it to an operator.

That was too simple and cheap to make any headway in this state, and it also aggravated the potent trucking lobby.

So we must look at other possibilities. The major bottlenecks along I-70 are Floyd Hill, the twin tunnels just east of Idaho Springs and, of course, the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnels under the Continental Divide.

Often we hear talk of rail along that corridor, but the simple fact is that many capitalists tried in the 19th century, and their work had to stop at Silver Plume on the east side and Keystone on the west. What lay between was just too steep.

We have a strong mining heritage, and back in 1922, some Colorado taxpayers agreed to finance the Moffat Tunnel. So why not dig more tunnels?

A bore from Golden to Idaho Springs would be about 16 miles long with an easy grade, and it would bypass both Floyd Hill and the twin tunnels. At the top, a 20-mile tunnel from Georgetown to Silverthorne, again with a gentle grade. Both tunnels would be higher on the west side, thereby making them also useful for water diversions, assuming there’s any water left in Summit County.

This would involve a lot of digging, but it wouldn’t require unproven transportation technology. It should be possible to use conventional heavy rail, albeit electric instead of diesel, to whisk skiers to and from the resorts. They’d miss a lot of scenery, but they’d probably prefer to watch movies along the way, anyway.

From what I’ve heard from the governor’s office, Coloradans just aren’t driving enough to pay sufficient fuel taxes to maintain our highways. Thus making rail an attractive alternative wouldn’t help, and providing express bus service leads to the same financial problem.

Adding lanes to I-70 for more drivers is expensive, and about as popular as rockslides in Clear Creek County, where they figure they have already contributed plenty to the Sacrifice Zone.

To avoid these problems, we could start some serious trashing of another corridor by following the pioneers’ preferred route to Summit County. Expand U.S. 285 to six lanes all the way to Webster at the east foot of Kenosha Pass (with a tunnel under Crow Hill to eliminate that grade), then build a highway north with a tunnel under Handcart Pass. That would move a fair amount of traffic off I-70. If it’s necessary to divert more, then keep widening 285 to Jefferson and a turnoff for a Georgia Pass tunnel, then to Como and a Boreas Pass tunnel, and finally to Fairplay and a Hoosier Pass tunnel.

This could get pretty expensive, and it might not be prudent, since petroleum prices keep going up. But it does appear to be our civic duty to provide transportation for Vail Resorts, and thus we Coloradans must dig deeper into our wallets as we search for new terrain to trash.

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