Rail along I-70: If we build it, will too many come?
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – With just a week left for the public to submit comments on a revised proposal for the improvement project on the Interstate-70 mountain corridor, the plan is getting mixed reviews in Summit County.
The proposal for a $20 billion project that would include widening I-70 to six lanes from Floyd Hill to the Twin Tunnels and installing an advanced guideway transit system, was put together to prepare the highway to accommodate a huge increase in traffic expected along the corridor by 2035.
But not all Summit County residents are in support of the proposal.
Eric Buck, of Breckenridge, said he is concerned the improvement project could eventually bring so many people to Summit County that the limited infrastructure of small mountain towns like his would be overwhelmed.
“According to (the Colorado Department of Transportation) this plan will deliver 9 million more people to Summit County each year,” Buck said at a recent Breckenridge town council meeting. “That’s 9 million more people added to our already crowded roads, parking lots, ski-slopes and grocery stores.”
If improvements to I-70 are not made, CDOT estimates by 2050 travel conditions on I-70 will be bad enough that 9 million people per year will decide not to use the corridor.
Buck also expressed concerns that easy access to Denver provided by the proposed mass-transit line would drive more full-time residents into Summit County from the Front Range, and could eventually transform Breckenridge into a suburb of Denver. Buck said expanding Breckenridge to make room for Denver commuters and new visitors would likely be detrimental to the character of the town as well as the surrounding environment.
Some members of the Breckenridge Town Council shared his fears.
“To have people that could easily live here and work in Denver, it would really change the complexion of our community,” Councilman Eric Mamula said.
But CDOT representatives say the project offers important benefits to local communities along the corridor. By mitigating traffic increases, the project will help protect the tourism-based economies of the region. Without an improvement project, recreational spending in the region could suffer as congestion gets to the point that potential tourists decide not to make the trip, according to a report on the project released by CDOT.
Less congested roadways will also mean direct benefits for residents of communities on the corridor, said project manager Scott McDaniel.
“There’s going to be a huge benefit economically,” McDaniel said. “Anything that’s being shipped into your community is going to get there faster and cheaper.”
By reducing the amount of time people spend on the highway and giving travelers an alternative to driving, the transit system, the project will also be good for the environment, McDaniel said.
He said responses to the proposal from individuals and business who will be impacted by the project have generally been positive. He said questions of growth and development as a result of the project fall to local town and county governments.
“Our job is to provide a transportation system,” McDaniel said. “It’s up to the local community to decide how their community grows. We don’t get into the local land use development. That is strictly up to the counties and the towns and cities in those communities to make that decision.”
CDOT does not currently have enough money from existing revenue sources to cover the project. New sources of funding will have to be secured to implement the proposal.
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