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The I-70 Coalition's Tad Kline wades into the mountain-traffic mess

An image from the I-70 Coalition's website, i70solutions.org.

Just in time for the opening of the first two I-70 ski resorts last week – Arapahoe Basin and Loveland – the I-70 Coalition has hired a policy wonk to solve the corridor’s congestion crisis without pouring a single drop of concrete. Well, not exactly, admits the I-70 TDM (Travel Demand Management) Program Manager Tad Kline, who sounds a little more pessimistic than cautiously optimistic about his new gig.

"If there were an easy way to solve this problem, it would be done, because everybody wants it to happen," Kline says. "This is probably going to be a number of small programs that make a marginal difference, and if we’re lucky the number of programs will add together and make the experience better for people... We don’t know how much we can do, but we do want to give it a good try."

Since a longterm solution to the I-70 logjam, meaning a transit system or highway widening, is at least a decade away, communities are looking for anything that might help in the meantime. TDM strategies, usually used to mitigate urban rush-hour traffic, basically mean giving people incentives to carpool, use transit or drive to and from work during non-peak times.

I-70 doesn’t exactly fit the TDM mold. People already carpool to the mountains, and adjust when they travel to avoid the weekend morning and afternoon rush. In fact, one concern is that as soon as capacity is freed up on the highway, the interstate will be filled by the people who – for now – are choosing to stay in Denver rather than deal with the peak-hour traffic.

"I’m at the moment just starting the job, looking at what kinds of programs might be effective," Kline says. "It may not be the only situation like it in the country, but it’s very very unusual."

Kline will spend the next three months considering his options, talking to everybody who might have a solution. Then he’ll work with CDOT, which is funding his position, to implement whatever he comes up with.

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So far, his ideas are about persuading people to change their ways.

"People are used to getting in that horrific line getting out of the mountains on Sunday night... If people can delay that return until Monday morning, they might also enjoy the mountains a little more. I don’t know how many of my friends will drive up on Saturday morning and drive down on Saturday night and then decide Sunday morning to go back up. It’s probably a little cheaper, but the aggravation and the time, it’s not really enjoying the mountains..."

I’m sure if I could afford a vacation home, I’d drive at off-peak hours and enjoy those mountains a lot more, too. Maybe Kline’s found his incentive: cheap mountain real estate.

Now if only he could make that happen before the end of the ski season. -- Jessica Centers

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