Courtesy of Stadler Trains
CDOT agrees to consider mountain rail system, but will it realistically ever happen?
June 6, 2008 —
“Show me the money” remained the refrain of the day even after a broad coalition of private and public stakeholders along Interstate 70 officially sang "Kumbaya" and signed off on a deal that includes both widening the congested freeway and pursuing a mountain mass-transit system.
“It was stalled, essentially, over disagreement as to whether it should be highway widening or mass transit,” Colorado Department of Transportation Director Russell George told Bob Berwyn of the Summit Daily News last week. “We now have the essential process moving again.”
Experts say a mountain monorail could cost upwards of $5 billion, a lofty price tag at a time when the state’s roads are in a serious state of disrepair. While stretches of I-70 will now get six-laned, mass transit is in the hands of the governor’s office and state lawmakers who twice tried unsuccessfully to impose tolls to fund improvements last session.
“If elected I will introduce a bill to get a monorail built, I promise that,” Muhammad Ali Hasan, Republican House District 56 candidate, told realvail.com. “I think a significant portion of [the monorail cost] would have to be privatized municipal bonds -- the money we collect off of the season passes and the one-way tickets.”
His opponent for the ski resort district that includes Summit, Eagle and Lake counties, Democrat Rep. Christine Scanlan, told realvail.com that mountain rail is secondary to basic road upkeep at this point.
“Right now we’re obviously behind the eight ball on paying for just getting our roads upgraded and maintained at the level that we need them at, and that will be my first priority,” Scanlan said. “Second priority, sure I think we should look at mass transit. It’s a part of any long-term equation. The problem is how to pay for it.”
The deal George brokered Thursday reportedly includes six lanes from Floyd Hill through the twin tunnels, frontage roads from Idaho Springs to Hidden Valley, upgrades to the junction of I-70 and U.S. 40, additional lanes on either side of the Eisenhower Tunnel, improvements to the interstate at Dowd Junction and near Wolcott in Eagle County, and another lane between Frisco and Silverthorne.
And a mass-transit option will at least be of the plan for I-70 that will be finalized by 2010. But actually laying track will be nowhere as easy as getting rail back on the table. There are virtually no federal dollars for mass transit in a relatively rural area, and state voters will likely wonder why they have to fund a fix for congestion on peak ski-season weekends and during the two big summer tourism months of July and August.
The impetus for a mountain monorail will have to come from politicians and business leaders who can convince voters that such a train system will be a competitive advantage for decades to come for the state’s ski and tourism industry – the second largest generator of revenue for Colorado behind only agriculture.
In the long run, though, the only real way to get it done might be as part of a Denver Winter Olympic bid for 2018 or beyond. More on that later.
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