Fix I-70 Day

This Article Was Written With State Senator Dan Gibbs And State Rep. Christine Scanlan

Like many Coloradans, the three of us frequently use the I-70 mountain corridor to get back and forth between the Front Range and our state's beloved mountains. Whether it is to ski, to bike or simply to head home, the gorgeous stretch along I-70 is a scenic and picturesque drive -- if you're not headed westbound on a Friday afternoon or eastbound on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Anyone who has attempted to drive either of those frustratingly-congested routes knows exactly what we're talking about. The standstill traffic leads to hours-long delays on the four-lane highway. Less obvious but equally important, the promise of these delays dissuades many would-be travelers from embarking on mountain getaways. In fact, KOA recently surveyed 2,300 listeners and found that 65.9% of respondents avoid activities in the mountains because of traffic on I-70.

As a result, our state loses tourism, business and tax revenue when Coloradans and visitors from other states avoid the hassle of the drive and skip their weekend getaways. Speaking to the importance of I-70 to Colorado's economy, according to a 2007 Denver Metro Chamber study, Colorado lost $839 million annually in lost tourism, business and trade due to congestion on I-70.

Colorado's tourism industry is a cornerstone of our mountain economies and it is imperative that we do all we can to ensure easy accessibility. People from the Front Range want to enjoy the mountains and people in the mountains understand how important tourism is to their economies. The prospect of a four hour drive ends up costing our state more than just time.

That's why Gov. Bill Ritter, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the I-70 Collaborative Effort have been working tirelessly to tackle the congestion problems along the I-70 corridor. Last year, Gov. Ritter directed CDOT to increase its efforts to find short- and long-term solutions that are the right fit for mountain-goers, mountain communities and other stakeholders.

One of the near-term ideas involves the use of reversible lanes on I-70 between Floyd Hill and Georgetown. If feasible, the state would install moveable barriers to establish three westbound lanes of traffic during peak hours, and then reverse the flow with three eastbound lanes to bring travelers back to the Front Range after a visit to the high country, while protecting just one lane of traffic going in the opposite direction.

CDOT is currently conducting several studies on this concept, with results of an initial feasibility study due at the end of April and findings from an engineering analysis expected this fall. CDOT stresses that the only way this concept will work is if we can safely cross westbound traffic into eastbound lanes, and vice versa, in the mountain environment.

In conjunction with the Ritter administration's efforts, we are pleased to introduce Senate Bill 184. This bill encourages CDOT to move forward as quickly as possible, assuming all the technical engineering and safety concerns can be addressed. Fortunately, a reversible lane system is possible to install without large-scale infrastructure changes.

There are companies with both the technology and the willingness to work with Colorado to either completely finance the project -- and pay it off over time -- or sell us the system up front. SB 184 encourages the state to examine all options including the use of public-private partnerships. As with many successful public-private partnerships, we are confident that the installation and maintenance of the movable barriers will provide Coloradans with jobs in these tough economic times.

If Senate Bill 184 passes and we facilitate its implementation and quick financing, we could unveil this "zipper lane" approach by spring of 2011. Not all Coloradans live in the mountains, but the mountains live in all Coloradans. Easier access to those mountains will ensure that this is always the case. So, join us at the Capitol today, Thursday, April 22nd, as we announce 'Fix I-70 Day' and really get to work on a tangible solution to this problem. With citizens' support, government can move quickly to solve a frustrating problem for Coloradans.