Glenwood not keen on I-70 toll idea
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspenm CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Local reactions were mostly negative to a bill that passed out of committee in the state senate Thursday. That bill proposes a $5 toll on Interstate 70 drivers west of Denver.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen doesn’t like to imagine paying a $5 toll to drive to Denver.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” he said. “It strikes me as being extremely unfair that the needs of I-70 have been ignored for so many years and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to improve I-25.”
The Senate Transportation Committee killed Senate Bill 209, by Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver. The bill would have charged tolls during peak times on vehicles carrying less than three people and would have charged truckers more. Romer said Winter Park skiers bonked him in the head with their poles on a chairlift when they discovered he was the man behind the bill.
But Senate Bill 213, by Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, passed the transportation committee, and will head next to the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would charge I-70 drivers west of Denver a toll of up to $5 to raise money to improve the often gridlocked highway. However, even some of the bill’s co-sponsors said they might not support it before the full Senate.
Christensen said tolling I-70 drivers could hurt Colorado economically. Utah aggressively markets its easy access from a major airport to ski resorts, he said, and ski resorts in this part of Colorado are already at a disadvantage because of often unpredictable winter air travel.
“There is a blatant lack of fairness in the resources that go to infrastructure development up and down the I-25 corridor,” he said. “Obviously there is a difference in population. On the other hand, essentially nothing has been done to I-70 in decades and the I-25 system has been totally rebuilt.”
He added a toll would also be unfair to public sector employees who must take frequent trips to and from the Front Range for work.
Marianne Virgili, president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, said, “It doesn’t seem fair that the mountain communities would be paying for improvements to the whole state system.”
However, she said a $5 I-70 toll probably wouldn’t discourage tourism to Glenwood Springs. Fears that increasing gas prices would hurt tourism didn’t play out, she said, and it would still be cheaper for someone to drive from the Front Range to Glenwood Springs for a vacation rather than flying somewhere else.
She said the chamber joins the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce in taking a monitoring position on Senate Bill 213, with hopes that the “undue burden” tolling could create will be addressed by options that have not yet been presented. Virgili said the bill seems to be an effort to get a public reaction to plan a strategy for reintroducing the bill next year.
Steve Beckley, an owner of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, said a toll would definitely have a negative impact on the park’s business, since I-70 drivers are its lifeblood. He estimated up to 70 percent of park visitors drive from the Front Range.
“It would be a negative impact for the businesses in Glenwood,” he said. “It would probably be a positive impact for traffic on I-70, so I certainly have mixed feelings about it.”
Kjell Mitchell, general manager of the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, said of the bill, “It’s an ill-conceived idea and it’s a bad idea. Glenwood Springs is a tourist community and we rely on tourism. The connection to Denver is vital to our commerce and we need a free flow of traffic.”
But he would need many questions about the bill answered before commenting further. He’s curious about things such as whether mountain residents would get a pass, and if the bill’s ultimate goal is to raise money or to decrease traffic.
Christensen, Virgili and Beckley would like to see a railway answer to I-70’s traffic problem.
“I would prefer to see the money go toward light rail or another option than adding more lanes,” Virgili said. “It just seems to be gridlocked as soon as they build another lane.”
Christensen said, “I think a lot of us up here think that the real solution is looking at mass transit or some sort of rail system rather than just more lanes of highway.”