Ski areas open to I-70 ‘zipper lane’ |

Ski areas open to I-70 ‘zipper lane’

DENVER – Ski areas and ski-town businesses along Interstate 70 are hesitantly embracing the “zipper lane” proposal that would borrow other-direction lanes during peak traffic times.

“We have been working on this I-70 stuff for so long, we are open to every option out there, and this is a viable one,” said Craig Bannister, public-affairs manager for Colorado Ski Country, which represents 21 ski areas.

“The industry perspective is that something needs to be done, and this could be it.”

Bannister said it was unclear whether his group’s member resorts would support the proposed zipper lanes financially. The cost of installing the movable lane barriers – reducing westbound lanes to one and increasing eastbound lanes to three on wintertime Sundays from 1-8 p.m. – would cost at least $24 million, according to state transportation officials.

Copper Mountain chief Gary Rodgers said the zipper-lane proposal is “intriguing.” Copper Mountain is a founding member of the

I-70 Coalition group, which is working to relieve congestion on the skier-trafficked corridor.

“We recommend that alternatives should continue to be investigated,” said Rodgers, noting that the zipper- lane proposal leaves “many unanswered questions” concerning emergency-vehicle and snowplow access. Plus, said Rodgers: “Will it really help?”

Many resorts along I-70, such as Copper, offer carpool discounts, lodging deals and late-Sunday hotel-checkout times to help alleviate eastbound congestion on the interstate. Vail Resorts, which operates four of the eight resorts along

I-70 within 100 miles of Denver, supports zipper lanes but urges investigation of longer-term solutions – such as a fix for the Twin Tunnels east of Idaho Springs. Movable lanes during peak traffic “is a great start,” said Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga.

Yet Vail Resorts thinks the state should shoulder the cost of the fixes.

“Improving I-70 is really improving the connection to the Western Slope, so it should be a collective responsibility,” Ladyga said.

“Tourism is a huge contributor to the economic vitality of the state, and we contribute a significant amount of taxes already.”

A 2007 study by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce found that congestion on the mountain stretch of I-70 costs the state as much as $839 million a year in tourism, business and tax revenue. Raoul Pietri, owner of the 12-year-old Stage Coach Limousine company in Summit County, wonders if a zipper lane is the answer to the increasing skier congestion that clogs the thoroughfare on weekends. Maybe the shoulders or existing emergency lanes can be better utilized.

“I’d like to see something like that rather than a zipper lane,” Pietri said. “I think the ski areas should be paying for it too. They started all this with the $400 passes. Back when it was more expensive, I don’t think we had this kind of traffic problem.”

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