28 August 2013: Tunnel project just the beginning

Tunnel project is just the beginning

What a blast!  The project at the Twin Tunnels, soon to be renamed since they’re no longer identical, is looking as if it’s rounding third base and heading for home.  Light at the end of the tunnel will appear when daylight in Clear Creek is waning…after Halloween.

Trick or treat?

Before toasting the event or breathing a long-last sigh of relief, I suggest a reality check: This is merely the first step in the process to widen I-70 throughout the county.  Methodical and incremental, but the result will be the same: six or more lanes from Floyd Hill to Summit.

Our former state senator and current Summit County commissioner Dan Gibbs, who serves chairman of the I-70 Coalition board of directors, told the Denver Post, “it’s a new reality in Colorado now.”   Granted, Gibbs said it in context of tolling not widening the highway, but in order to provide tolling lanes, guess what needs to be constructed?

Gibbs, who appreciated your vote when he ran for the senate and will gladly accept it when he likely runs for statewide office, has a more pressing loyalty with which to contend and placate than the wee folks of Clear Creek: Summit and Eagle counties and the financial behemoth that owns both – Vail Associates.

That’s Big Money.  What needs to be done to facilitate moving fatter wallets more quickly to Vail is the end game.  In the mix, Clear Creek is an after-thought, a spud, a small potato.

Tolling, which Gibbs said is “among the most agreed upon solutions,” is being offered by Parsons Corp., an engineering firm “considered the front-runner to retool the highway,” as a key component.  Read retool as widen exponentially.

The initial phase of the “Parsons Plan,” writes the Post, “calls for building a reversible express tollway, two or three lanes wide [emphasis mine], stretching about 53 miles between C-470 and Silverthorne.

“General purpose lanes on I-70 also would be reconstructed.”  That’s nice to know there is something in it for the rest of us.

And so from where does that space come?

And whatever happened to the idea of rail or of doing nothing?

For nostalgia, take a trip along the I-25 corridor during rush hour.  Back in the late 1990s when it was six-lanes wide and commuters endured a grueling excursion, then governor Bill Owens led the fight to enact a billion-dollar tax to solve the problem.

Owens won the political fight but has lost the argument.  Today I-25 is eight lanes and more with the same grueling grind during rush hour.  Off hours, who cares?  It’s identical to I-70 through Clear Creek: 300 days and more of the year it’s adequate.  On the less-than-60 days that it’s not, it’s only for perhaps a quarter of the day: 6 hours out of 24.

Gibbs says the tolling—widening—plan is “feasible.”

“It’s being looked at in both urban and resort regions.”

Urban and resort: In which would you place Clear Creek?  We’re certainly not urban, and resort, in this case, means specifically Vail, which owns Breckenridge and Keystone.

Bulldoze now and make political amends afterwards: That’s Gibb’s strategy.

In addition to Gibbs, the Post quotes Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan, who to her credit said the plan needs more study.  I was struck though by the lack of comment by any of our commissioners, which seems odd given that Clear Creek is ground zero for all the action.

Sort of makes one feel all tingly and valued, eh?

Maybe the snub occurred because the article was intended as a fluff piece and favor for our friends to the west, or perhaps it was simply shoddy reporting.

According to the Post, tolling and widening are not forgone conclusions since “CDOT will soon launch another study, this time assessing the economic feasibility of the Parsons Plan.”  So says Amy Ford, CDOT spokeswoman.

So maybe there’s hope, eh?

Probably not.

“The tolling proposal will likely be part of any solution for fixing I-70 in the mountains,” says the article.

Yep, says Ford, “These new partnerships are a reality, and we have to deal with that.”

Indeed, we do and the Twin Tunnels project is the opening salvo.

Trick or treat?

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