18 March 2009: High-speed rail decision can come by 2010

Decision on high-speed rail could come by 2010

When I asked CCC Land Use Division Director Jo Ann Sorensen about the latest on the I-70 Corridor, she sent me a 136-page document with a title, it seems, with136 words: “I-70 Coalition Land Use Planning Study for Rail Transit Alignment throughout the I-70 corridor: Final Report.”

First, I realized I had a sizeable task before me; second, I could see quite a bit has been done in advancing the potential for 21st-century modes of transportation throughout our happy valley; and third, I had to take a refresher course on acronyms.

The legacy of Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller is giving way to newer technologies; thus, modes of transportation will look differently in the 21st century compared to our accustomed practices much as the 20th century’s were to the 19th century’s.

In that context, the FR sets forth the coalition’s preferred alternative for the I-70 PEIS: “a long-range, multimodal, sequenced alternative that addresses the transportation concerns of the I-70 corridor for at least the next 50 years, consisting of five different components: highway, transit, aviation, alternate routes and non-motorized.”

That seems to cover all the bases, but transit—AGS or Advanced Guideway System—is headlining the process.

“Future AGS service,” says the FR, “should provide key connections to adjacent communities in order to accommodate the local needs for connectivity and improve access to the Clear Creek community for tourist activity. It should create a transit system that creates a ‘wow’ factor while maintaining the unique historic character of the local towns.”

The report suggests potential stops: Idaho Springs and Empire Junction, Georgetown or “somewhere in between” as Tier 1 stations and Loveland as a Tier 2.

A Tier One station would include a “passenger platform, passenger drop off, transit center with bus bays to accommodate local connections, park-n-ride, and bike parking,” and each is detailed regarding its function, size, and other aspects.

A Tier Two would be a local or “milk-run” station, “smaller in scale, requiring only elements of these larger facilities, as appropriate to each community and station function.”

Questions about Land Use are addressed: “Clear Creek County’s Master Plan has goals to achieve economic diversity, environmental sustainability, desired development and housing patterns, a regional open space facility, multimodal transportation system, preservation and a desired character.”

While “this is a great start in preparing for the AGS,” says the FR, “the next steps will be to add language that directly addresses the AGS and how Clear Creek County will integrate with the system.”

Given that, CCC “needs to continue to evaluate infrastructure needs [as] the current infrastructure has limits.”

Of primary concern is local transit. The report recommends CCC communities “to evaluate whether a local transit service is viable and whether it would enhance travel for their residents and visitors.”

With regard to the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority, which is studying the potential for rail “within Colorado and into neighboring states that could provide seamless travel throughout the state’s most populated corridors,” the FR urges the Coalition “to coordinate with the RMRA study, examining whether inter-city high-speed rail is technically, financially, and economically feasible for I-70.”

In other words, can it work up here given the steep terrain and other obstacles known as mountains?

TOD, or Transit-Oriented Development, is usually associated with urban design. The FR points out “in the mountain and resort settings along the I-70 corridor, the development pattern at a station may be smaller in scale, have a lower density, promote recreational or entertainment opportunities, or may include park or civic uses that showcase the unique mountain character and natural setting.”

Sorensen’s concern about the RMRA connection is “because the mountain corridor is being studied along with the north-south corridor, and because the mountain corridor does not have the daily traffic issues that the Front Range has, a technology that may work well for the Front Range will drive the analysis”

In short, “the answer for the front range may not be the same as the answer for the mountains,” says Sorensen.

The Record of Decision (ROD), issued by the Federal Highway Administration for the PEIS, is expected by CDOT to be completed in 2010.

The anticipation is “the ROD will include high speed rail (AGS) and specific highway improvements in the final decision.”

In addition, “the NEPA—National Environmental Policy Act—process requires additional studies for those areas or projects within the PEIS which are either substantial in scope or have sensitive environmental considerations” that can take up to eight additional years.

Accordingly, smaller highway improvement projects, such as auxiliary lanes WB to and EB from the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels might start as soon as 2011 with major highway improvements in 2017. As for an AGS, planning and design might get under way as soon as 2011 with construction, if financing is secured, between 2015 and 2020.

Upcoming meeting dates include March 27 and 28 and April 10. Jo Ann will keep us posted, but feel free to contact her @ 303-679-2409.

In a subsequent piece, we’ll explore what’s happening with the RMRA and the technologies that can make AGS a reality.

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