21 January 2015: I-70 puts county at fork in the road

I-70 puts county at a fork in the road

It’s been inevitable Clear Creek arrive at the fork in the road that will have profound outcomes on the county in our lifetimes and beyond.   Along with the lifespan of the Henderson operation, actions taken in context of the I-70 corridor will have more impact on our community’s future than any other challenge: economically, socially, environmentally, and more.

For years the dialogue with our western neighbors and the state about the highway proceeded with no action taken.  That all changed in 2013 with the expansion of the east-bound bore of the Twin Tunnels.  Shovels hit the dirt, dynamite blew up the rock, and asphalt was laid all in the name of progress.

At that point, the question changed from theoretical to practical reality.  All of a sudden, the rubber met the road.

The work being done along with that being planned has led to justifiable trepidation, anger, and angst.   Citizens wonder about what lies around the next hairpin curve. There’s a sense of foreboding that the travails of the 240 bridge are a harbinger of what’s to come.

As the 18th-century British philosopher Samuel Johnson said, “Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.”

As this came down, I engaged in an exchange with Commissioner Tim Mauck in which I laid out four “realities” to which I asked him to respond.  That conversation led to other areas, which has helped me get a better handle of the complexities of the problem.  The outcome is a series of columns for the next few weeks through which I will explore the I-70 corridor crisis from the scope of the problem and key players to what does it portends for Clear Creek residents and communities and its environment.

On the first point, Mauck and I agreed: Over 97 percent of the time the highway as it exists is more than adequate.

For evidence for my second contention that there can be no on-ground permanent solution, I point to the more-recent experience of widening I-25 through Denver.  Former governor Bill Owens convinced taxpayers that a billion dollars and eight more lanes would solve the deadlock.  Voters bought into it and it was widened from six lanes to ten.

Congestion, however, during rush hour—peak period travel—is as gut-wrenching as it was pre-expansion.  That reality reflects the tried-and-true maxim of highway building throughout the twentieth century: Build it and we’ll fill it.  Call it Los Angelesing.

While not disagreeing with the absolutism of my contention, Mauck qualifies it by referencing the Advanced Guideway System element.

“If CDOT isn’t pursing an AGS system (or some mass transit) to its final conclusion,” he says, “and all we are pushing are short-term road capacity projects, then there is no long-term solution.  In that case Clear Creek can count on limping from construction project to construction project over the course of the next 20-plus years.”

To my essential point however, Mauck concurs: “We can’t build ourselves out of this problem.”

With regard to my third contention—Expansion of the corridor is not only not in Clear Creek’s interest, but it is also destructive to the community and environment—Mauck again qualifies his agreement with the AGS potential or lack thereof.

“Expansion of existing pavement is bad.  Current projects do so minimally and may buy us some time…IF, AND ONLY IF we intend to implement a long term multi-modal system next.  So far, CDOT has stopped the AGS.

“We agree we are still within the Record of Decision, but the spirit of the ROD was to work towards implementing a long term, 50-year solution.  If we fail to embark on a multi-modal system in the near future, then current ‘operational’ enhancements will adversely affect us in the long term.”

It’s called cherry picking.  As long as laying asphalt is involved, you can be sure CDOT will get it done.

Easing the curves and widening the existing footprint might serve to make the highway safer, but it will do nothing to ease west-bound travel.  Until the highway is widened to Vail, there will be a pinch-point somewhere.  Right now it’s the bottom of Floyd Hill.  CDOT’s plan is to make it the US 40 turnoff (exit 232), which means 50 percent more vehicles idling in the valley.

The outcome: environmental degradation and community dislocation.

Travel time from Denver to Vail: longer with more vehicles cramming the highway and feeding into the same two-lane stretch.

Contention #4: Clear Creek is not a full-fledged partner in the ongoing discussion and planning.

To be continued.

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