OUR VIEW: No to I-70 tunnel, yes to I-25 (poll)

September 29, 2011
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The long overdue widening of I-25 should not have to compete with political pandering to Denver, the ski industry and skiers.

Colorado’s 11-member Transportation Commission will meet Oct. 20 to decide how best to spend $215 million in unanticipated funding that came from the federal and state governments and various local sources. One of four options the commission will consider includes the widening of I-25 by one lane in each direction from Woodmen Road to Interquest Parkway. If chosen, that would complete one-fifth of the plan to widen I-25 from Woodmen to the Douglas County line north of Monument. The cost of completing the entire project is about $200 million.

While one option would widen I-25, all four options include $60 million to widen the eastbound tunnel of I-70 just west of Idaho Springs.

The committee should scrap the tunnel plan and other aspirations for now and spend all of the $215 million on widening I-25 as far north as possible in an urgent quest to connect Colorado Springs and Denver — the state’s two largest cities by far — with no fewer than six lanes. Any bottleneck along that corridor impedes the economic advantages that all of Colorado would gain from high-volume travel between the state’s two economic powerhouses.

About 31,210 vehicles use I-70 tunnels each day, based on data provided by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. Meanwhile, about 54,000 vehicles use I-25 on Monument Hill each day. That means 22,790 more vehicles squeeze through two lanes of I-25 each day than go through I-70 tunnels. The money should be used to benefit as many Coloradans as possible, and that means spending it on I-25.

The numbers get more dramatic as we focus on I-25 closer to Woodmen. At the Interquest interchange, I-25 carries 70,000 vehicles each day. Just north of Woodmen, the number is 90,000. That means a stretch of highway that carries three times more traffic must compete with a tunnel for funds. It’s an outrage and nothing less than political pandering to Denver and the ski industry.

It gets worse. The per-mile cost of widening I-70 tunnels is three times the cost of widening sections of I-25 between Denver and the Springs.

(Should I-25 compete for funds with an I-70 tunnel? Vote to the right. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

If the commission wants to save lives, it will focus the money on I-25. A Denver Channel 7 News inquiry found that since 2006 the 4-mile stretch of I-70 from exit 236 to the twin tunnels has seen 700 crashes. During the same time frame, the four-mile stretch from Woodmen to Interquest has seen 900 crashes.

If the commission wants to reduce congestion — which will speed economic activity for the entire state — it will focus on I-25. The narrow section of I-25 through northern Colorado Springs has more than 250 severe congestion days each year; the I-70 corridor west of Denver has 19.

If the commission wants to create jobs and speed recovery, it will focus the funds on I-25. The widening could begin tomorrow. Widening of tunnels cannot begin before 2013 at the soonest, because they are under environmental review. This is a no-brainer. Spend all of the money on I-25 and maximize the benefit. We cannot afford political indulgences in times like these.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

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