A Multi Modal Solution to I-70 Congestion

After twenty years, it looks like the state, local governments, environmental advocates, and business interests may have finally come to an agreement on what to do about the I-70 mountain corridor – and that agreement includes a train.

The Collaborative Effort, a 27-member panel of stakeholders, decided Thursday on a “multi-modal solution” that includes highway improvements and a commitment to evaluate and implement an Advanced Guideway System.

The members of the panel are now going back to get approval from the jurisdictions and organizations they represent. Assuming everyone signs off, the document will be made final next week. The Colorado Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration have already committed to adopting the alternative reached by full consensus of the CE.

This decision comes twenty years after the state first began planning how to relieve congestion in the corridor in 1988. I wrote about the twenty years and $30 million in studies that followed in a story, (Rail Roaded March 15, 2007) last year. That long process included a similar collaborative effort in which a multi modal solution was favored, but that recommendation was thrown out by the Owens Administration in favor of more studies. When their Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was released in 2007, it recommended highway widening. People in the mountain communities who favored a train spoke out, and the Ritter Administration listened.

Russell George, then the new head of CDOT, agreed to put the PEIS on hold in order to let stakeholders participate in this Collaborative Effort.

Mary Jane Loevlie, a Clear Creek County resident who’s been a part of the I-70 debate since it started, says her jurisdiction is very pleased with the recommendation, which calls for highway improvements, including some six-lane widening, to happen concurrently with the train she’s long advocated.

Specifically, the draft calls for six-lane widening from Floyd Hill through the Twin Tunnels, including a bike trail and frontage roads from Idaho Springs east to Hidden Valley and Hidden Valley to US 6. There would also be improvements to Empire Junction, several auxiliary lanes, and more than a dozen interchange improvements.

The biggest obstacle to an expensive train may still be funding, but Loevlie thinks the CE’s recommendation will attract investment. “We’re optimistic that now that this decision has actually been made to do the Advanced Guideway System that private partners will come out of the woodwork,” she says. -- Jessica Centers