Clear Creek isn’t a cheap date

The footprint I-70 occupies in the Clear Creek Valley is vastly disproportionate to the amount it takes in any other county, from Mesa to Kit Carson. As it is, Clear Creek is one of Colorado’s smallest counties with approximately 75 percent of it “undevelopable,” off limits to human occupancy. Focusing on the area from Floyd Hill west, thus excluding the portion of developable land in the eastern part, one can appreciate the outsized impact the highway has on Clear Creek geographically, which, in turn, affects most every other aspect of community life: economic, culture, education, and just plain living

It is through that lens we view the I-70 projects, a lens the Colorado Department of Transportation chieftains, other state officials and leaders, and, indeed, fellow Coloradans can appreciate only intellectually, objectively not subjectively. For them, I-70 through Clear Creek is viewed no differently than it is in any other area.

CDOT, like any bureaucracy, exists in a bubble, its own little cocoon, responsive to big-time, moneyed political interests, movers, and shakers. In that pantheon, Clear Creek doesn’t rank.

But, CDOT is sensitive to its image. It wants to give the impression that it listens to community concerns. It’s the reason it strings Clear Creek along, feeling confident in the end it will get what it wants: A six-lane superhighway through Clear Creek and more bores at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels so that when people CDOT is really listening to are traveling, they could do so with lesser inconvenience.

The I-70 project is a long game, so it behooves CDOT to be patient, move incrementally, a step at a time, inexorably progressing toward that one outcome.

Powerful shakers and movers, accustomed to getting what they want, sit to our west and to our east. In the summer, the exploding Colorado population wants to do what Front Range Coloradans have done since our Colorado first white settlers confiscated the land from native tribes: The mountain experience while enjoying urban amenities. In the winter, Vail Resorts wants Front Range wallets in ever-increasing numbers to feed its corporate coffers, and those wallets, in turn, want to lessen their travel time. Greater numbers, greater pressures, greater demands.

And Clear Creek, whose terrain was formed millions of years ago, is the primary conduit to and fro, sitting between those rocks and hard places.

Adding another lane to I-70 will only acerbate the problem because it will merely move the pinch point from Floyd Hill to exit 232 and entice more to drive up…and sit. Then pressure will grow to widen I-70 from 232 west despite a century-plus of experience telling us—Coloradans, Americans—we will never build enough lanes and highways to solve transportation problems.

Transportation Liaison Jo Ann Sorenson put it succinctly: “It’s really time for CDOT to get committed to transit for this corridor.” But with no hammer, so to speak, how to get CDOT to give more than lip service to an Advanced Guideway System? How to get CDOT to publicly declare, “An AGS will be built before any further consideration is given to widening I-70 past 232 or boring another tunnel”?

How to get CDOT to reset its priorities by addressing an increasingly dangerous Floyd Hill and replacing the crumbling bridge at the bottom rather than building a Beamer lane to swoosh deep-pocket drivers to the head of the queue that will form at exit 232?

“There are few issues as large, complicated or frustrating as the I-70 Mountain Corridor,” said Commissioner Tim Mauck. “For our community, much is at stake. We must respect we are in a region surrounded by economic giants: the Denver Metro Area to our east and the rural resort region to our west.

“Given the playing field, we can’t browbeat or stall our way to what is the only reasonable solution: A high-speed mass transit system. We must be visionary and aggressive leaders on this issue but also appreciate the space for politics, financing, and technology for high-speed transit to fall into alignment.”

I emailed Clear Creek’s representatives, Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City) and House Majority Leader KC Becker (D-Boulder), requesting their thoughts. Despite two requests, Grantham did not respond, but Becker did.

“The needs of Clear Creek County residents,” she said, “is foremost in my mind when considering what the future of I-70 will be. There are no easy answers when it comes to financing or designing major transportation projects like this one. I will do my part to make sure the EIS is adhered to and prioritized.”

I concluded my January 3rd column saying Clear Creek is not a cheap date. We’re not. We’re talking about our home. We need to keep showing we’re feisty folks continually on guard to protect it. And won’t quit.

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