22 September 2010: Widening I-70

Widening I-70 will put scars on the land

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear/ Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend / Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more / More people, more scars upon the land. (Rocky Mountain High by John Denver)

To read the Courant’s report, CDOT’s 2010 Revised Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is primarily about widening, while the Denver Post editorial board sees it as a proposed $20-billion boondoggle for a “pie-in-the-sky” monorail. Different eyes see differently, which makes sense as we filter information through the lenses of our experience. Up here it’s about protecting the home turf, while down there it’s about bulldozing in a misguided belief that adding more lanes will make traveling through—not to—Clear Creek faster.

The dog-and-pony show on it will be held on October 6th at the high school. I’ll likely be in New Mexico, but thanks anyway.

While assuredly transit needs to be part of the answer, I suggest we haven’t put our finger on the real question/problem in front of us. The Sunday afternoon crawl in itself is merely a symptom of a larger problem: We love our mountains to death; after all, they are the real reasons we come, live, and love Colorado.

I wonder at times about the reason people living in harsh circumstances illogically procreating more humans who not only will endure horrific lives but also be the source of greater suffering to their parents’ lives. The suffering might be due either to the inability of the environment to support wide-scale life or to dire economic conditions; but either way, when reality inevitably has its way, outcomes are often unpleasant.

That lesson is not only applicable to extremes noted above, but also to Clear Creek, the corridor/funnel/pipeline for metroites and residents of Colorado’s “playgrounds.” It comes down to too many people located, even temporarily in traffic jams, in an environment with insufficient space and resources.

From history, we know that adding more lanes is not an answer; otherwise, Los Angeles would suffer no congestion. If you haven’t yet, treat yourself to a drive on I-25 south from 6th Ave. on a Saturday morning, and then repeat it during an afternoon rush-hour peak period. A decade ago, then Governor Bill Owens convinced voters to spend over a billion dollars to “improve” that corridor. If by improvement, Owens meant more vehicles idling or crawling during rush hour much as they did before the expansion, then the I-25 project is a success.

Build it and drivers will fill the road to capacity and endure whatever time is necessary regardless of aggravation—our capacity for tolerating the inconvenient is imprinted in our DNA. I marvel at people who complain about the huge numbers of others on the road or slopes without them making the connection that they are part of the numbers and therefore of the problem.

A six-hour drive to a flatlander skier in 2035 will be just as frustrating but endurable as the six-hour commute in 2010. It’s part of the price one pays to ski or mountain bike.

“If [residents of Clear Creek] insist on a monorail,” writes the Post editorial board, “which isn’t feasible, it’s merely a stall tactic to delay road widening.”

The feasibility point is, of course, debatable. Is it technological limitations or funding? Maybe the first, the Post might argue, but certainly the second.

“CDOT’s funding stream is far too weak to imagine a $20 billion solution,” continues the editorial. “It might as well be $100 billion.” It’s hard to argue with that given that over 50 percent of the roads for which CDOT is responsible are in poor shape.

In today’s hyper-charged political environment, especially here in Colorado where arguably the biggest issue confronting voters will not be selecting our next governor and representatives but whether we will do the lemming thing and commit economic suicide by passing the three ballot initiatives, that’s a legitimate concern.

With regard to the accusation of implementing a “stalling tactic” strategy, the Post says, “We sympathize with Clear Creek residents who fear an expansion would degrade their communities.”

While it’s comforting to know they feel Clear Creek’s pain, all the same, the idea of widening, other than pinch-point and interchange enhancement, is nothing short of folly. We know that because we live and experience this daily. They don’t because their experience is based upon an occasional several-hour frustrating commute.

As long as the mountains hold their allure, mountain visitors will continue to roll through this valley. In 2035, future CDOT planners will ask, “What can be done about the I-70 corridor congestion?”

“More people, more scars upon the land.” When will everyone who is part of the problem hear that?


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