Longform

Rail Roaded

Page 4 of 8

Absent was an analysis of environmental mitigation costs, and the group believes that had those been studied, the price of highway expansion would shoot well above the $4 billion cap.

Dale couldn't fathom what ripping up the only artery to the mountains for fifteen years would do to those communities, let alone the state: "I know CDOT officials will say they have experience with T-Rex and all these other things, but it's not the same. There are places where you simply can't widen to divert traffic around."

He also believed that the $4 billion figure was arbitrarily selected for the express purpose of ruling out transit. Then, as he broke down the numbers, he came to also believe that the estimate for highway widening was intentionally deflated. He constructed a chart and PowerPoint presentation to explain this point, using Glenwood Canyon as the basis of his cost analysis. The way the road through Glenwood Canyon becomes a part of the landscape is an example of what's officially known as Context Sensitive Design, which the Federal Highway Administration requires transportation projects to use.

"If you were to look at a six-lane version of what was done in Glenwood Canyon, that would cost about $100 million per mile," he says. "When you go through and look at the places you would have to do that in the corridor, you're going to wind up with a $5 billion highway. The solutions for rail in the corridor, depending on the technology, are probably between $4 billion and $6 billion. So you're really talking about the same price.

"Even in CDOT's own data, they show that by 2025, when they think they can get this done by, the congestion is just as bad as it is today," he adds. "In fact, it's worse. And so it doesn't accomplish anything. It just wastes a whole bunch of money and doesn't take into account all these environmental things that are important to us."

As comments like these began to flood CDOT, Region 1 director Kullman was the man responding. "I would say, with few exceptions, the individuals of Clear Creek County probably know the PEIS document better than anybody else except the preparers themselves," Kullman says. "And so, yeah, they've been vocal, because they have a lot at stake here. It's obviously very difficult to convince them otherwise that we didn't have a pre-determined outlook when we went into this process."

Still, he tried.

To detractors, he pointed out that the ridership survey and subsequent traffic analysis involved experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was one of the most comprehensive studies the feds had ever seen. "In fact, the Federal Transit Authority said they would not accept our transit study because they thought it exaggerated too many trips toward transit," he explains. "We're showing 15 to 20 percent transit trips during the peak hours, which is exceedingly high. So from a traffic-modeling perspective, we certainly did look at all the alternatives."

He also explained that the $4 billion threshold was an attempt to be realistic about what could be accomplished over the next 25 years. "We looked at what we had, and we believed we had about $1 billion in the bank for this corridor," says Kullman. "And we just exaggerated that up, thinking, 'My goodness, if we could get really lucky and everything in the world fell into place, it's possible that we could get $3 billion or $4 billion.'"

Kullman defended the $2.65 billion highway-widening estimate as taking into account the mitigation costs associated with the federally required Context Sensitive Solution and Context Sensitive Design processes. "CSS is, I believe, a new term for something the State of Colorado has been doing very well for years," he says. "By evidence, look at Glenwood Canyon, Vail Pass, Berthoud Pass. How we married the highway system with the environment. We addressed all kinds of mitigation. We are absolutely committed to that kind of solution for this corridor. We assumed that kind of treatment throughout the process, and you have to. This corridor is too important to everybody in Colorado. I've lived here my whole life. This is home for me. My parents were raised here and my kids still live here, and it's important to me that we do this right."

The mountain communities were so disturbed by the PEIS findings that in 2005 they, too, formed an organization to oppose them. The I-70 Coalition then held a two-day retreat in SolVista in order to come to consensus on I-70. It was a meeting not unlike the many sessions the participants had sat through seven years earlier.

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Jessica Centers