CDOT unveils EIS in Glenwood
If the decision was up to state Sen. Jack Taylor, there’d be a highway over Cottonwood Pass linking Gypsum and the Roaring Fork Valley.Taylor (R-Steamboat Springs) put in his two cents’ worth Saturday at a Colorado Department of Transportation hearing in which the public was invited to comment on its Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that will largely change the profile of Interstate 70 through the mountains west of Denver.Cottonwood Pass was once considered as the actual route of I-70 back in the 60s when the interstate was built. Now, with all the rockfall and accidents that tie up Glenwood Canyon, it only makes sense to have a bypass there, Taylor said. As it stands now, the route is passable only with four-wheel drive when it’s wet.Taylor said his hometown doesn’t mind having the added visitors when the canyon is closed, as it is the only bypass around the canyon, but he didn’t think the visitors felt the same way.CDOT, however, has other ideas.CDOT planner Zac Graves laid out the general alternatives the department proposed for improving traffic flow in the mountain corridor between C-470, at the foot of the Front Range, and Glenwood Springs.Construction for the entire project is expected to extend over 15 years, Graves said.Among the alternatives CDOT analyzed are a six-lane highway, heavy rail, buses running in the median on a special guideway and an elevated Advanced Guideway System or monorail. CDOT is also looking at various combinations of all three proposals, some of which call for an additional bore at the Eisenhower Tunnel on the Continental Divide.While each of the three scenarios would have differential effects on both traffic flow and the various economies of the counties and towns, the bottom line is cost.Topping the price scale is the monorail, which would cost approximately $6.2 billion. CDOT estimates the rail system would cost about $4.9 billion, bus in a guideway $3.4 billion, and the six-lane scenario $2.2 billion.The threshold for screening out costly alternatives, Graves said, is $4 billion. Anything in excess of that figure will undoubtedly be eliminated as a viable alternative.Besides the up-front construction cost, operation of a guideway bus system would need $20 to $30 million in annual subsidies. The monorail would need a whopping $95 million a year.What appears inevitable, whether it’s six lanes or a monorail, is that toll booths will appear on the interstate, probably at the tunnel, to help pay for the upgrade.Graves said the need for a new and improved interstate is population and employment growth in the mountain counties west of Denver. Most of the population growth is driven by “recreation and second-home ownership,” he said. He pointed out that there are more than 200 recreation sites, notably in the White River and Arapaho National Forests, along I-70, as well as 15 major ski areas.Growth in traffic, and congestion, is gauged by traffic flow through the Eisenhower Tunnel, Graves said. In 2000, 18.5 million cars went through the tunnel. In 2025, that number is expected to reach 30 million.What chilled the audience of about 20 at Saturday’s meeting was Graves’ statement that what is now a four-hour drive from Glenwood Springs to Denver could climb to six hours by 2025 without improvements to I-70.Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt was at the meeting Saturday and announced that the Interstate 70 Coalition, which she leads, is coming up with its own preferred alternative. The coalition will present preliminary findings at two public meetings in Glenwood Springs, on Feb. 22, before the county commissioners, and on March 3, before city council. CDOT is taking public comment until May 24. Written comments can be sent online at the project Web site, http://www.i70mtncorridor.com. The entire EIS is also on the Web site.
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