Interstate 70 traffic solutions in sight? |

Interstate 70 traffic solutions in sight?

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” Avon resident Phil Barutha said he rarely goes to Denver in the winter months because he doesn’t want to deal with traffic on Interstate 70.

“It’s horrible. I basically shut it off in December and don’t go down unless I absolutely have to,” he said.

Kate Vredenburg, who works in Eagle-Vail, agrees that the roads are pretty bad, and not only during skier rush hours, typically on Fridays when skiers are coming to the mountains from the Front Range, and on Sundays, when they’re driving home.

“It’s bad either way I drive it, at 6 a.m. or 10 a.m.,” she said.

Colorado Department of Transportation studies estimate that by the year 2020, I-70 traffic on weekdays will be as bad as traffic is now on peak weekends.

But the challenges could start within the next few years, said Flo Raitano, director of the I-70 Coalition, a group of politicians, town representatives and businesses formed to find solutions transportation problems on the interstate corridor.

“We really need to be planning for it now,” she said.

Two studies are under way to determine how best to get traffic moving faster on I-70.

One looks at how to best connect local communities with a transit system, which could include a train or bus system, along the mountain corridor.

The study, which is expected to be completed in February 2009, will look at environmental effects as well as concerns of mountain communities that would be affected by construction and noise.

The second study looks specifically at the feasibility of building a train system from Denver International Airport to Grand Junction.

Planners need to look at all the technology that is available for high speed rails, as well as how much demand and ridership there would be for a train system, Raitano said.

Barutha said he thinks a light rail system would be great.

“I’d definitely take it. That’d be pretty amazing,” he said.

Edwards resident Kevin Roach said he thinks a train system could also help get workers from more affordable towns downvalley to where the jobs are upvalley.

“I’m interested in looking at the railroad line we have going through the entire valley. Something there could bring workers upvalley from Gypsum,” he said.

How soon a train could be built is up in the air, Raitano said.

“People are all over the map on that, from people who say it’s long-term to people who say that if the (study) results are positive, there’s no reason not to look at funding and start in the next five years,” she said.

Resort towns worry that traffic could deter skiers from coming up, but Raitano said the traffic affects the economic welfare of the entire state.

Officials estimate that a one-hour closure on I-70 results in an $800,000 loss from lift ticket, retail and restaurant sales.

For short term solutions, the group is working with towns and resorts to encourage skiers to come up at different times. Colorado Ski Country USA is organizing carpooling for the Easter weekend and the group wants to talk to employers about flexible work schedules so Front Rangers can come up on weekdays.

In the mountains, the Summit Chamber of Commerce is working with businesses to schedule truck shipments during “off” times.

“It’s not the silver bullet, but every bit helps to prevent congestion along the corridor from increasing,” Raitano said.


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