I-70 congestion fix moves ahead slowly

Construction could begin by 2016 on a plan to help alleviate congestion on Interstate 70 between Denver and counties with major ski resorts. It could potentially be completed by 2021, although a Colorado Department of Transportation official acknowledged that the 2021 completion represents “a very aggressive schedule.”

Even so, we hope the project moves forward with that aggressive goal in mind. The 70-mile-long parking lot that I-70 too often becomes between Denver and Summit County is a problem not just for ski traffic, but for all of us in western Colorado who depend on the interstate for commerce or just visits to the Front Range.

But no one should be under the illusion that the plan being discussed here is the futuristic, high-speed train running from Denver westward. That plan was put on the far-back burner this spring after a feasibility study showed construction of the high-speed train was technically feasible, but ridership would be lower than originally projected and construction of the high-tech guideway in the I-70 median would cost an estimated $20 billion.

In contrast, the plan put forth last week by Parsons Corp. would cost $3.5 billion, and express toll lanes that are part of the plan are projected to bring in $8.6 billion in revenue over 50 years, according to The Vail Daily.

Parsons, an international engineering and construction firm that includes former Colorado Department of Transportation personnel, proposes to undertake the project in partnership with CDOT.

The Parsons proposal is for a three-phase project that includes the express lanes that would require users to pay a toll of up to $26, depending on how high demand was at the time of use.

Additionally, there would be a bus rapid transit system that could also use the express lanes. The express lanes would be reversible, so they could be used to accommodate either peak westbound traffic or peak eastbound traffic.

Additional bores would be drilled at Eisenhower Tunnels under the plan, and some straightening of the existing highway and resurfacing of it would be required.

Parsons first suggested a public-private partnership with CDOT in an unsolicited proposal to the state in 2011. Since then, the state agency and the company have been working closely to formulate a plan, details of which they unveiled at a meeting in Eagle last week.

Both entities would assume equal financial risk under the plan, but the state Transportation Department could drop out if the project isn’t proceeding as planned.

We hope it does move forward. Even though it won’t eliminate traffic congestion on I-70 on busy weekends, it will offer a significant relief to those who want to pay the toll or take the bus, and thereby help alleviate congestion on the rest of the highway.


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