Mountain rail, six lanes on I-70 back on table

“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 the Summit Daily News. “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 Colorado Independent. “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, said 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 told the Independent. “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.

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.

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