I-70 traffic predicted to worsen as state’s population grows
As traffic projections outline a potentially bleak travel experience for future motorists along Interstate 70, the Glenwood Springs City Council voted Thursday to re-join a coalition dedicated to improving the mountain thoroughfare.
Founded in 2004, the I-70 coalition was created because stakeholders along the interstate’s mountain corridor felt they weren’t being heard during the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement process, I-70 Coalition Director Margaret Bowes said.
The coalition’s mission is to enhance mobility and accessibility throughout the mountain corridor by working closely with the state Legislature to inform them of the corridor’s needs.
During its regular meeting Thursday, Bowes presented City Council with an overview of the coalition’s continued work as well as projections about the future of I-70 travel between Denver and Glenwood Springs.
Bowes said Colorado’s population is forecast to increase by about 3 million people by 2050, mostly on the Front Range.
“As I think you are all aware, this corridor is not meeting our needs,” Bowes said. “It has congestion issues, and it lacks resiliency, redundancy, and the highway has largely been unchanged since 1979 — though Glenwood Canyon is the exception to that statement.”
Without additional infrastructure improvements, travel times between Denver and Glenwood Springs could triple by 2035, she said.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, the coalition consisted of 27 local governments and businesses, including Eagle, Summit and Clear Creek counties, the towns of Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge and multiple large employers, such as Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Vail Resorts.
While Glenwood Springs and Garfield County were once members of the coalition, both let their membership status lapse about a decade ago, Bowes said.
In 2011, CDOT issued a Record of Decision, identifying some of the corridor’s long-term needs, including high-speed transit, noninfrastructure improvement and specific highway improvement projects.
Bowes said highway improvements have slowed to a trickle since 2011, but a federal infrastructure bill and recent state legislation could inject more money to interstate project budgets.
However, she explained major projects such as alternate routes to Glenwood Canyon potentially through Cottonwood Pass and improvements to Vail Pass and Floyd Hill are too large to be entirely funded through the recent state and federal infrastructure bills, requiring stakeholders — such as the I-70 Coalition — to advocate for additional funding and support.
As part of the 2011 Record of Decision, CDOT explored the potential for a rapid transit system, such as a high-speed train. While the idea was deemed possible in 2014, it was found to be financially impractical with a price tag of about $16 billion, Bowes said. Keeping the conversation on the rails, Bowes said despite the lack of a high speed transit project in the future, the coalition gained a seat on an advisory board for the recently formed Front Range Passenger Rail District.
“We’ll be participating in those discussions and making sure those folks realize that we need the Front Range rail system to be … at least interconnected with a future mountain system,” she said.
The coalition is also working on noninfrastructure improvement projects, such as transportation demand management with the goal of reducing congestion and improving mobility.
And the coalition hosts a website, http://www.goi70.com, with information about ridesharing, the travel forecast, mountain transit options and I-70 news.
“Every Thursday afternoon, we post a travel forecast specific to the coming weekend,” Bowes explained. “The forecast takes into consideration weather, construction and historic traffic volumes. So it gives folks an idea of when traffic will be at its worst.”
Prior to the city’s membership lapsing, its dues were about $1,800 a year, and if the city rejoined, the dues would likely remain similar, Bowes said.
Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman made a motion to rejoin the coalition.
“I think it’s important for us to be engaged in the coalition,” Willman said. “And I would encourage us to become members again.”
Council member Shelley Kaup seconded the motion, which passed 5-1, with council member Marco Dehm absent and council member Tony Hershey voting against.
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