Reducing traffic in Colorado's mountain region.

Gore Range from Vail.

At the end of the year, many people look back at the past year and forward to what the future holds. For some, expanding Interstate 70 to three lanes in both directions through the mountain corridor is the goal for the future of transportation in Colorado and its mountain region, according to Ross Leonhart in Summit Daily. To do that would require $3 billion to $4 billion. But, not everyone shares that dream. Mike Rose, transportation manager for Vail, said, “Nobody has the answer, and very few have the checkbook.”

Leonhart said the project would have to be done gradually, beginning with high-traffic sections. Tunnels would have to be widened and interchanges would have to be upgraded, and in some sections, cars would have to be kept off the road for the work to be done, as they have been during the creation of the new underpass connecting Vail’s frontage roads.

Reducing Traffic

Transportation officials would like to get cars off the roads to reduce traffic (and thereby, accidents). Among their “ambitious ideas” for how to accomplish this are rail systems and high-speed trains. But Colorado Department of Transportation’s Communications Director Amy Ford told Summit Daily that those are not financially feasible at this time. A CDOT technical feasibility analysis found that although the technology exists for an advanced highway system in High Country, it would cost $16 billion. CDOT’s annual budget is $1 billion, however.

On its website, CDOT says its long-term plan for the 144-mile stretch of I-70 through Colorado’s mountains includes transit, highway, safety, and other improvements. “Implementing planned improvements will increase capacity, improve accessibility and mobility, and decrease congestion along the corridor.” Among the many special considerations the department needs to address are weather conditions, tight curves, and interchange geometry, which all contribute to higher accident rates in the Officers Gulch area.

Public Transit

A successful addition to transit has been CDOT’s Bustang express bus, which has three routes in and out of Denver, making two stops daily in Vail. Bustang makes it possible, for example, for a person living in Eagle County to take a bus to Vail’s transportation center, and then switch to a Bustang to Denver. Harry Frampton of East West Partners said:

We as a community need to do everything we can to discourage cars. There’s no simple magic bullet, but we need to discourage it. What I know about bus transportation is that frequency matters. If you increase frequency, you get an increase in ridership. The more we can make public transportation and discourage cars, the better.

Autonomous Cars

As for self-driving cars, Vail’s Mike Rose does not think they will be up to the task of driving in the extreme weather and road conditions in High Country any time soon:

Unless there’s some technological jump to where there’s an electrical computer system that is 100-percent correct 100 percent of the time, I think there’s going to have to be the need for human intervention.

Ride Sharing

According to Leonhart, Jaime Moore of Uber said its ride-sharing service has quadrupled its mountain ridership since its recruiting efforts began in November. But there still are not many rides to be found on most days.

Walking and Cycling

Chris Lubbers of Eagle County’s ECO Transit department told Leonhart that with Eagle County Trails providing 19 miles of trails for walkers and bicyclists, it eventually could be possible to walk or bike from Glenwood Canyon to East Vail. The concept of bike sharing is also popular, Lubbers said. Denver has bike sharing, and Vail and Avon could soon. Lubber said, “it just depends on who takes the steps to bring them here.”

Windfall Taxes?

In a comment under the article, Bonnie Post offers a suggestion:

Why not use the windfall taxes from the legal sale of marijuana to build a “mountain highway” for only cars — especially since many of the accidents on I-70 seem to involve tractor trailers. It could even be a toll road, using the new technology of EZPass that does NOT require having more government employees, that would help pay off some of the cost of the highway.

Image by David Herrera, used under its Creative Commons license.

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