Grand County has every reason to oppose flawed I-70 toll proposal
April 3, 2008
Somewhere among the iconic dictums of the West, such as dont fence me in, wed include this updated one: Dont charge a toll on my interstate.Yet during this session of the Legislature, we are witnessing a near stampede to do just that.Residents of Grand County have reason to take particular offense to one of these ideas still being mulled by lawmakers; i.e., legislation proposed by Senate Minority Leader Andrew McElhany, R-Colorado Springs.His bill would impose a $5 toll adjusted in the future for inflation each way on Intestate 70 between the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels and Floyd Hill, though the bill exempts those who live in Clear Creek, Gilpin and Summit counties.The exemptions presumably are based on the fact that people who reside in those counties must use I-70 in the course of their daily business, and therefore the toll would constitute an undue burden on them.Of course, the same applies to us here in Grand County, where citizens use I-70 to conduct daily business, visit relatives, go to medical appointments and testify at the Statehouse in Denver every bit as much as the residents of the exempted counties.If this fundamentally flawed legislation is to survive, the very least that should be changed is including Grand County residents among those exempted.Beyond that, the list of problems with this bill would stretch to the Kansas border. To cite but a few: Fairness: How is it that this stretch of I-70 should be subject to a toll simply by virtue of the fact it experiences routine congestion and needs to be upgraded? The same can be said for any number of other stretches of interstate highway in Colorado.Yet no one levied a toll on I-25 in Denver when the costly T-Rex project to widen that interstate was undertaken.Ditto I-70 in Glenwood Canyon, the single most expensive per-mile interstate project ever.Nor are residents of the Fort Collins-Greeley-Loveland area being asked to pay a toll to pay for reconstruction of I-25. Fairness, part II: For some of us, use of I-70 is not discretionary. Lawmakers act as though the only people who would be affected by a toll are metro area skiers and snowboarders who get stuck in traffic on weekends.Newsflash: I-70 is the only practical way for us denizens on this side of the Divide to travel to the states capital and largest city, as well as among our various communities.Moreover, many of our livelihoods depend on the tourism dollars that flow along that pipeline.So, while the issue may to some extent be one of statewide interest and, if so, why shouldnt the whole state pay for it? residents of mountain communities have a far greater vested interest in this issue than do the Front Range lawmakers who seem to be racing to be the first to convert I-70 into a toll highway. The cure may be worse than the ill: The logistics and expense of establishing toll booths from Floyd Hill to the tunnels are problematic at best. Plus, if lawmakers think congestion is a problem now, wait until they get a peek at the lines backed up at those booths. Double taxation: Havent we already paid taxes to support this federal interstate highway? The Bush administrations apparent eagerness to waive the federal prohibition against levying tolls on free portions of the interstate should be all the warning taxpayers need: Hide your wallets, the camels nose is poking under the tent flap. And, finally, arent McElhany & Co. getting the cart before the horse? What, precisely, would be funded by the toll revenue? A monorail to Vail? HOV lanes? A train? More tunnel bores?Fact is, we have no idea, nor does the legislation specify anything other than nebulous future projects to alleviate congestion. Yet, suddenly, as if angry gods cursed us with I-70 traffic jams overnight, we must impose a toll NOW to appease them.Nonsense.A group of citizens and public officials known as the I-70 Corridor Collaborative Effort Team has been working on potential solutions to I-70 congestion and is due to release its recommendations in May.Surely Coloradans can wait until next years legislative session to address the future of I-70. By then, the teams recommendations can be debated and the communities that will be most affected will have a chance to weigh in.In the meantime, we stand with the recent protester on the Capitol steps whose sign put it succinctly: Tolls are for Trolls.