20 October 2005

Is Rail Really Too Costly For I-70?

When I previously discussed plans to address congestion along I-70 through the mountains, I said:

The plan claims that doing anything more than being "public transit ready" is too expensive. I'm skeptical of that conclusion and of the traffic models that assume that people will continue to prefer roads to transit even when it takes 8 hours to drive from Glenwood Springs to Golden.

A more careful reader than I who road a letter to the editor of the Rocky, raises some additional points. Consider this:

[T]he 52 pages of executive summary successfully obscured the fact that an elevated high-speed rail alternative is actually far cheaper per mile than the Colorado Department of Transportation's proposed highway widening. In a conscious rigging of the analysis in favor of asphalt, the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement compares 50 miles of six-laning between Floyd Hill and Dillon with a 160-mile advanced guideway from Denver to Vail and rules out transit as too expensive.

A careful reading of the data also demonstrates that usage patterns prevent tolling from ever providing more than a fraction of I-70 expansion costs. An elevated guideway or monorail is not only less expensive and far less disruptive to build, but it could carry five to six times as many passengers per hour as a single additional lane. Also buried in the report is the finding that traffic in 2025 would experience fewer delays if a transit system were constructed along the current highway, without any widening, than would exist on the proposed six-lane expansion.

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