2014

19 March 2014: Let users pay for I-70 solutions

Let users pay for I-70 solutions

The I-70 Corridor is a mess…on a few days, like less than 40 out of 365 days of the year.   That’s about 10 percent of the time and even that is over-stating the case because on those days, the congestion is limited to usually no more than six hours or one-fourth of the day.  One-fourth of 10 percent is 2.5 percent.  That’s it for the entire year.

Otherwise, for the other 97.5 percent of the year, I-70 is very adequate to handle commuters’ needs.  When it’s not—that 2.5 percent—it’s often due to an interest to our west: Vail Resorts.

It’s important to keep in mind that the situation on I-70 through Clear Creek is in no way correlative to those in the metro area such as the Boulder Turnpike that can see heavy volumes seven days a week and for a sizeable portion of day.

To solve that problem, CDOT created a P3, a public-private partnership with a group called Plenary Roads.  The consortium is foreign owned, but that matters not a whit to those who feel no pangs of guilt about turning over portions of America to foreigners as long as we keep our taxes below subsistence.

When I first gave thought to the idea of P3’s, it seemed the concept had merit; now I’m not so sure because in the end, business is about profit.  In the Boulder Turnpike case, for example, if enough drivers opt not to use—boycott—the toll lanes, Plenary will go under.  If and when it does, the taxpayers will really get the shaft by being forced to re-do the entire highway that the investors go to pot-holes.

Still, I am wondering if the P3 concept might be a win-win for both sides.  It seems we have assumed the private entity in the P3 should be a road-builder/maintenance/operator sort.  However, I question the rationale or assumption for that.  Why couldn’t the private entity in the P3 be a business entity with a deep and permanent commitment to the process due to the fact that if it fails, the business at the end of the line would suffer.

That’s the case with the I-70 Corridor.  It is during that 2.5 percent of its time, especially during the winter, that it serves as a viaduct for those wishing to access Vail Resorts, which includes Keystone and Breckenridge in addition to Vail itself.

Such as it is with most ski resorts, the location of the Vail resorts is a two-edged sword.  They can get in abundance the one commodity skiers and riders require—snow—but accessing that snow can oftentimes be quite trying on dry roads due to volume as well on snow-covered ones.

Vail, though, has a unique circumstance.  All its patrons must squeeze through the funnel we call the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels after venturing up I-70 from Georgetown on their way to skiing or from Silverthorne on their way home.  For the truly hardy souls that crave the real experience of skiing Vail itself, they get to venture forth over Vail Pass, which can be an ordeal if snow and traffic volume mix.  What ranges from an inconvenience to an ordeal for its patrons is the lifeblood of the resort, for without those wallets, Vail would have to shut down the lifts and close the places of lodging.

If one asks the average person about the affordability of skiing, most if not nearly all would hold it’s a very expensive sport.  It can be, but not to savvy consumers who buy passes and packages in lieu of paying the walk-up rate.  For them, skiing is not all that expensive.  If one buys a season pass in the $400 to $700 range and skis 40 to 70 times a season, it makes their daily rate $10.  Even if one skis one-fourth of that amount, $40-per-day is a screaming deal.

And nearly all of those patrons use I-70 to make their way to play at a posh resort at a very cheap rate.  They are the ones who should ante up to pay for something that is otherwise completely unnecessary: the expansion of I-70 and/or building a high-speed rail system.

It can be done in a couple of ways: a surcharge on the Epic Pass or a tax that probably could be enacted with a vote.

It beats absurd tolling, and besides, it’s in the American tradition.  Let the users pay.

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