Few interested in Interstate 70 meeting
If only Interstate 70 resembled the audience in Eagle County’s board room Tuesday night: sparse.Only six people, including one commissioner and two reporters, turned out for a meeting to discuss the state’s suggested fixes for I-70’s growing traffic.”Part of it is that everybody knows that it’s been going on for a long time,” said Commissioner Peter Runyon, the commissioner who stuck around for the meeting. “It’s a little bit like watching the tide come and go. And there’s a feeling of relative powerlessness.”And perhaps, in Eagle County, anyway, there’s a sense that congestion on I-70 just isn’t that bad.”I don’t think we really have a problem from Vail Pass to the Eagle County airport,” said Elyse Howard, an East Vail resident and audience member No. 2. “I don’t think the traffic is bad. Where’s it’s bad is from C-470 to Copper Mountain.”To be clear, last night’s meeting was not one of several the state’s department of transportation has hosted in towns along the I-70 corridor. Rather, it was sponsored by the I-70 Coalition, a group of communities along the interstate that hopes to come to some consensus on what should be done to solve congestion. Eagle County, Avon and Vail are part of that coalition.Meeting facilitator Jack Taylor – not the state representative – said Tuesday night’s attendance is typical of what he’s seen. “There have been an awful lot of meetings,” Taylor said. “Some folks are just tired of hearing about it.”Growing pessimism?The state predicts that by 2025, if nothing along I-70 changes, it will take more than four hours in the winter to go from Vail to the C-470 interchange just outside Denver. During the summer, it will take more than six hours to drive from that interchange to Vail.Officials have considered expanding I-70 to six lanes, which would require new tunnels through Dowd Junction, at the Eisenhower Tunnel and east of Idaho Springs. Another possible solution would be adding two high-occupancy vehicle lanes – typically for vehicles containing two or more passengers.Building a monorail, a light rail or running buses are other ideas. State officials also are considering using a combination of highway expansion, buses and a railway.But the most important criterion is that whatever option is picked must cost less than $4 billion, the spending limit set by transportation director Tom Norton. That criterion is not popular with communities in the I-70 coalition, Taylor said. “The one thing that I’m hearing in every jurisdiction is that the $4 billion cap is not reasonable,” Taylor said. Runyon, who prefers building a monorail – the most expensive solution at an estimated $6.1 billion – said there is hope the cap may go up if voters decided to temporarily suspend a law that limits the amount of tax revenue the state can collect. That law is the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, best known by its acronym, TABOR. “It would give us the authority to bond specifically to address infrastructure issues that we have let slide, and possibly more money will be available for this I-70 corridor,” Runyon said. However, state officials actually have identified only $2.2 billion so far to fix I-70, according to Tuesday night’s presentation.Time for new ideas?Perhaps the best thing to do would be nothing, Howard said. Officials predict it will take 15 years to complete a project, regardless of which idea is picked. By then, the selected solution will no longer work, she said. “Even the monorail options require widening the highway,” she said. “No matter what they do, it’s going to change what the corridor looks like.” Besides, making it easy for people to drive here may have adverse effects on the community, Howard said. If people can easily travel between Denver and Vail, some may decide to move up here and commute to work, or vice versa, she said.”I’m surprised by what they are proposing,” Howard said. “The buses they are talking about are all diesel. It’s not very state-of-the-art thinking.” It could exacerbate parking problems, as well, said Walt Bujorym, an Avon resident who also attended the meeting.Bujorym suggested transportation officials start looking into lighter-than-air technology – basically, air ships that could take off and land just about anywhere. Not the stuff of science fiction movies anymore, Bujorym said the technology needs support and money to bring it into the public world.”Nobody knows about it,” he said. “The military is hugely interested in it.”Another man, who left before he could be identified, said any fix for I-70 should connect Denver International Airport to Eagle County’s airport, and other airports in the state. “When you go into an area where you don’t have to rent a car, it’s wonderful,” he said.
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