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Train in Vain

Opinion Editorial
November 18, 2003

By John M.W. Aldridge, P.E., A.I.C.P.

For more than a decade, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has been evaluating alternatives to relieve congestion and improve mobility in the 118 mile I-70 Mountain Corridor (C-470 to Eagle County Airport). During the last four years, they have been preparing a federally mandated Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that is supposed to evaluate reasonably available and financially feasible alternatives. From day one, rail transit advocates from corridor communities, and environmental groups, and smart growth planners have steadfastly maintained, that rail transit (a passenger railroad on tracks or fixed guide way) is the only solution. This is despite the fact that practical rail transit technology hasnt advanced much in the last century and that no realistic source of funds to construct a rail system has ever been identified. In the I-70 PEIS Summary of Preliminary Findings,[1] CDOT reported that maybe $1 billion dollars could be available for corridor improvements in the next 20 years. The cost of a rail transit system is at least $4.4 billion, according to CDOT.[2]
A rail transit system is a huge gamble requiring major changes in the corridor users fundamental travel behavior. While a trip from station to station may be quick and efficient, one still has to get to the station, probably via private automobile, park and unload, go through check-in and baggage handling, go through security screening, board and get seated, stop at stations along the route, alight and retrieve baggage, transfer to a local bus system, and then, after all that, finally arrive at your final destination for the days activities. Then the procedure has to be repeated for the return trip. Whew!  And, of course, therell be a fare to pay. For instance, the Winter Park Ski Train costs about $50.00 per person. And, by the way, it doesnt wait for those who oversleep or want one more run.
Sure, many would choose rail transit if it were available, but what about the vast majority who prefer the comfort and convenience of the beloved personal vehicle? Amazingly, even with very high ridership numbers on rail transit, the PEIS said that transitwhether bus, rail, or monorail, busleast meets the purpose and need of reducing congestion on I-70 between Eagle and Copper Mountain.[3] Unless the highway is also improved, congestion would be nearly as bad as, or worse than it is today. 
Fortunately, we have a real opportunity to work with corridor communities, environmentalists, and special interest groups to develop context-sensitive design solutions that will benefit far more people at a much lower cost.  Context-sensitive design simply means design flexibility. Its an opportunity for the federal government and CDOT to adjust design standards (not at the expense of safety, of course) to respect the sensitive mountain environment and maintain cherished values in the corridor communities. CDOT has already established a highly regarded reputation for context-sensitive design in major corridors throughout the state. Vail Pass, Glenwood Canyon and recently East Berthoud Pass are excellent examples.
Context-sensitive design can also be designed to incorporate the latest advances in ITS (intelligent transportation systems) and features such as tolling and/or HOV/HOT lanes. Many states have successfully implemented tolling and HOT lanes and motorists are enjoying congestion-free journeys. A context-sensitive/HOT lane alternative in the I-70 Mountain Corridor is a real solution that meets the needs of all corridor users and Colorado taxpayers. It deserves a thorough examination.

The Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

ALDRIDGE is a researcher at the Institute.

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

[1] Funding Issues Section, page 19
[2] Cost Section, page 82
[3] Mobility Section, page 74