Feds to give I-70 preferred alternative the green light
May 26, 2011
The Federal Highway Administration is expected to deliver approval June 16 on a long-term improvement plan for the Interstate 70 mountain corridor that could include widening the highway to six lanes in places and, eventually, a high-speed rail line connecting Summit County and other mountain communities with the Front Range.
The record of decision, set to be signed in support of the stakeholder-endorsed preferred alternative next month, will conclude a programmatic environmental impact study (PEIS) process more than a decade in the making. The preferred alternative, one of several options presented in the PEIS, describes projects aimed at reducing traffic through the year 2050.
“This is step one, and this is a big one,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said. “It allows forward movement with improvements to I-70.”
With the preferred alternative approved, the CDOT will begin more specified and targeted studies on individual projects before seeking funding to actually start work on those projects.
Central to the preferred alternative is the Advanced Guideway System, a high-speed rail intended to reduce traffic on the highway by providing alternate transportation service between Denver and mountain ski communities.
Future studies will need to examine the feasibility of rail service, possible stop locations, potential funding sources, how the rail would be managed and how it would connect with other existing and future transit systems, such as the Summit Stage, according to documents released by CDOT.
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CDOT has secured the funding needed for studies to collect the additional information and determine the viability of the rail system, an executive summary of the preferred alternative stated.
“(We have funding) to start asking the questions,” said Wendy Wallach, a CDOT environmental manager for the I-70 corridor. “We may not determine whether it’s feasible or not by the end, but we’re going to start looking at alignments and station scenarios.”
The preferred alternative also includes widening I-70 to six lanes between Floyd Hill and the Twin Tunnels near Idaho Springs as well as an eastbound auxiliary lane from the Eisenhower Tunnel to Herman Gulch and a westbound auxiliary lane from Bakerville to the Eisenhower Tunnel.
In addition, more extensive project options within the preferred alternatives include widening the highway to six lanes between the Eisenhower Tunnel and the Twin Tunnels.
The plan also describes non-infrastructure related components, such as bus or shuttle services and efforts to change traveler behavior by encouraging carpooling and commuting at off-peak times.
The preferred alternative was developed in response to current peak-time congestion on I-70 that is expected to worsen over the next 15 years.
By 2035, traffic volumes are expected to triple weekend travel time from 2000, while weekday travel time would be more than double what it was in 2000 without improvements, according to data included in the PEIS.
The 527-page PEIS, released by the Colorado Department of Transportation in March, presented more than 20 improvement plan options, developed through extensive studies of the corridor’s problems and feedback from stakeholders and the public.