High-speed rail could cut congestion on Interstate 70 | SkyHiNews.com

High-speed rail could cut congestion on Interstate 70

A rail system is the I-70 solution gaining momentum in the state.

A request for financial information from private-sector concessionaires concerning the feasibility of a high-speed, clean-powered train along the Interstate-70 mountain corridor has been issued by the Colorado Department of Transportation to see if the project could be financially possible.

“Financial feasibility is the last piece in determining the overall feasibility of an Advanced Guideway System along the I-70 mountain corridor,” said CDOT’s Division of Transit and Rail Director Mark Imhoff in a recent press release. “We look forward to private sector concessionaires and financial providers helping us determine whether Colorado can afford such a system.”

Last year the feasibility study asked private companies if it was physically and technologically possible to build a rail system through the mountain corridor and received optimistic replies that introduced a variety of possibilities.

Proposals included designs for elevated guideway systems that would use magnets, electricity and air, solar energy and hydrogen, and could travel faster than 100 miles per hour, controlled by computers. The proposed systems could complete the trip from the Front Range to Keystone in 45 minutes.

CDOT has identified three different types of systems that could be feasible for the corridor, including systems that would operate exclusively in the I-70 right-of-way, those that operate outside of the right-of-way, and those that could do both.

Representative alignments have been developed and are being used to develop ridership projections and general cost assumptions.

The cost of such a system in the I-70 mountain corridor could carry a price tag upwards of $20 billion, according to Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner, who previously sat on the I-70 Coalition, which seeks to enhance public accessibility and mobility in the I-70 Central Mountain Corridor.

Grand County no longer sits on the coalition, though it is not opposed to the project, according to Bumgarner. “They were talking such extreme and extraordinary numbers,” he said. Bumgarner said the county decided to wait and see if the project came to fruition before committing any more of the county’s money toward the project.

CDOT has been meeting regularly with the corridor communities to develop land use plans for potential station locations. The train, if built, would run 120 miles from C-470 in Jefferson County to the Eagle County Regional Airport and would have a stop in Empire, according to CDOT Spokesman Bob Wilson.

“We never want to throw a wet blanket (on something like this),” Bumgarner said. Bumgarner commented the county would support such a project if it were found to be feasible and would even consider raising money locally to help fund the project, if it was determined to have a positive impact on the county.

The advanced Guideway System Feasibility Study started in April 2012. The $1.8 million study is expected to be completed in the fall of 2013 and the project, if it clears all of the hurdles and becomes a reality, could begin construction of the rail system in 2025.

Responses to the request for financial information are due to CDOT by June 28. If the project were found to be feasible, a more detailed environmental impact study would need to be completed in order to select a specific technology and alignment for the system before CDOT could begin implementation.

Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334

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