I-70 traffic expected to worsen as state’s population grows

Traffic heads east and west on I-70 just before the unnamed tunnels.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent File

As traffic projections paint a potentially bleak travel experience for future motorists along Interstate 70, Glenwood Springs City Council voted Thursday to join a coalition dedicated to improving the mountain artery.

Founded in 2004, the I-70 Coalition was created because stakeholders along the mountainous highway corridor felt they were not being heard during the Department of Transportation’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement process. of Colorado, said Margaret Bowes, director of the I-70 coalition.

The coalition’s mission is to improve mobility and accessibility throughout the Mountain Corridor by working closely with the state legislature to inform them of the corridor’s needs.

During his regular meeting Thursday, Bowes provided City Council with an overview of the coalition’s ongoing work as well as projections for the future of I-70 travel between Denver and Glenwood Springs.

Bowes said Colorado’s population is expected to increase by about 3 million people by 2050, mostly in the Front Range.

“As I think you all know, this corridor does not meet our needs,” Bowes said. “It has congestion issues, and it lacks resilience, redundancy, and the highway has remained largely unchanged since 1979 – although Glenwood Canyon is the exception to that claim.”

Without additional infrastructure improvements, travel times between Denver and Glenwood Springs could triple by 2035, she said.

Before Thursday’s vote, the coalition was made up of 27 local governments and businesses, including Eagle, Summit and Clear Creek counties, the cities of Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge and several large employers, such as the ski area of Arapahoe Basin and Vail Resorts.

While Glenwood Springs and Garfield County were once members of the coalition, both let their membership expire about a decade ago, Bowes said.

In 2011, CDOT released a Record of Decision, identifying some of the corridor’s long-term needs, including high-speed transit, non-infrastructural improvement, and specific road improvement projects.

Bowes said highway improvements have slowed to a trickle since 2011, but a federal infrastructure bill and recent state legislation could inject more money into interstate project budgets.

However, she explained that major projects such as alternate routes to Glenwood Canyon potentially via Cottonwood Pass and improvements to Vail Pass and Floyd Hill are too large to be fully funded by recent state and federal infrastructure bills. requiring stakeholders – such as the I-70 Coalition – to advocate for additional funding and support.

As part of the 2011 Record of Decision, CDOT explored the potential for a rapid transit system, such as a high-speed train. Although the idea was deemed possible in 2014, it turned out to be financially unfeasible with a price tag of around $16 billion, Bowes said. Keeping the conversation on track, Bowes said that despite the lack of a high-speed transit project in the future, the coalition won a seat on the advisory board of the newly formed Front Range Passenger Rail District.

“We will be part of those discussions and make sure those people realize that we need the Front Range rail system to be…at least interconnected with a future mountain system,” she said.

The coalition also works on non-infrastructure improvement projects, such as transport demand management with the aim of reducing congestion and improving mobility.

And the coalition hosts a website, http://www.goi70.comwith information on carpooling, travel forecasts, mountain transit options and I-70 news.

“Every Thursday afternoon we post a travel forecast specific to the upcoming weekend,” Bowes explained. “The forecast takes into account weather conditions, construction and historical traffic volumes. So it gives people an idea of ​​when the traffic will be the worst.

Before the city’s membership expired, its dues were about $1,800 a year, and if the city joined, dues would likely remain similar, Bowes said.

Pro Tem Mayor Charlie Willman introduced a motion to join the coalition.

“I think it’s important for us to be committed to the coalition,” Willman said. “And I would encourage us to become members again.”

Council Member Shelley Kaup seconded the motion, which passed 5 to 1 with Council Member Marco Dehm absent and Council Member Tony Hershey voting no.