I-70 study details congestion’s impact | AspenTimes.com

I-70 study details congestion’s impact

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Sitting in traffic on I-70 is not only frustrating, but also very costly. The personal time alone lost to congestion on the main east-west highway through the state is valued at $85 billion annually, according to an economic impact study released Wednesday.

Altogether, clogs and slowdowns on the Interstate are likely costing the state of Colorado about $839 million per year, according to the report issued by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

“I was surprised by the numbers. It quantifies what we’ve been saying based on instinct,” said I-70 Mountain Corridor Coalition director Flo Raitano.

“Summit County and the coalition have been saying this for a long, long time. If we don’t fix it, it’s going to be a significant economic detriment,” Raitano said.

Based on the annual economic impacts of almost $1 billion, it would only take about 10 years to recoup the investment needed to improve I-70, Raitano said. “It makes it very clear that this is an economic development argument,” she said, explaining that the study outlines the direct costs to the mountain region’s tourism economy.

A small 1 percent decline in tourism means an annual loss of $35 million to the mountain region, including Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek, Gilpin and Pitkin counties, according to the report. That could mean a $1.2 million decline in state, county and city sales tax revenue, the report concludes.

The peak-period traffic jams on the highway could cause tourists to choose alternate out-of-state destinations, according to the study.

I-70 congestion will also raise government costs for emergency services, as well as personnel costs associated with hiring and retaining employees. Delaying the start of construction on improvements is also expensive. The cost for improving the road is expected to climb by 24.9 percent in 2010, from estimates generated in 2004. By 2015, costs would be 53.4 percent higher than the 2004 estimates.

Based on the analysis, the problems will likely get worse before they get better, with traffic on I-70 in Grand Junction expected to grow by 71.3 percent in the next 20 years ” an average annual increase of 2.9 percent. At the Eisenhower Tunnel, Idaho Springs and Glenwood Springs, traffic will grow by about 45 percent during that same span.

“It’s costing Colorado a lot of money not to do anything,” said Breckenridge Mayor Ernie Blake. “It’s time to make some serious improvements to the situation.”

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