Monday, March 24, 2008

March 24, 2008-For Whom the Road Tolls? It Tolls for Thee.

Consider This for March 24, 2008—For Whom the Road Tolls? It Tolls for Thee.

I remember the winter of 1994-1995 as if it was yesterday. I was the Director of Public Safety for Summit County and I-70 was closed more than forty times that winter as a result of heavy snow and the lack of plow operators. John Umbewuest was the CDOT District Engineer for this area and Ed Fink was in charge of Maintenance. During that process I gained a new respect for plow operators, district engineers and maintenance supervisors. It was a battle not to be won. It was a fight against Mother Nature that would never end. It is a battle that continues today.

In 1995 the Summit County Board of County Commissioners began working with CDOT and many other groups along I-70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs to find a solution to keeping I-70 open in the winter and to eliminate the weekly congestion every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Thirteen years later and nearly $30 million spent on consultants the road is worse today than it was when we began to study the problem.

Of course the immediate solution proposed by CDOT was to toll the road to pay for widening and other improvements. My immediate response to tolling I-70 was to let everyone know what a dumb idea that was. Tolls are a regressive tax that put a heavy burden on the users; tolls restrict commerce and never solve the problem.

At about the same time the citizens of the State of Colorado approved a tax for bonding road projects. Most of that money went to pay for TREX along I-25 in Denver. When I asked where the road money was being used in the mountain counties I was told that it was used to make improvements on Highway 50 near Montrose. Of course our CDOT Commissioner at the time (and still is) was from Grand Junction. It was his own little bit of Pork Barrel spending.

I know that the majority of drivers stuck in our abysmal transportation system were bogged down along I-25 for five days a week. What they (CDOT) failed to recognize was that the same people were stuck in traffic along I-70 three days a week as they tried to get from Denver to the high country and back.

So the entire State of Colorado paid for road improvements for a few miles of I-25 and now the State of Colorado wants the weekend drivers to pay for improvements on I-70 with a toll.

I was on the CIFGA (Colorado Interstate Fixed Guideway Authority) Board for a while. That was the board established to look at a monorail or some sort of high speed train along I-70. Lots of studies and lots of money spent and all for naught. The fixed guideway was put to a statewide vote similar to TREX and only a few counties supported the idea.

I am sure that Senator Chris Romer is well intentioned in keeping the “Let’s Toll I-70” idea afloat. I wonder if he knows that this is not a good idea. I wonder if he knows that it is an idea that has been proposed by CDOT for the past thirteen years.

So if the voters refuse to fund a high speed railroad could they be persuaded to fund major highway improvements (widening) along the same way that TREX was funded?

I woke up very early last Thursday morning with this quote from John Donne on my mind. I suppose it could apply to improving I-70 and recognizing that tolls are a bad idea and that the entire State of Colorado should pay for the improvements and not just those who might pay a toll. I have paraphrased it to highlight my point.

No mountain area is an Island, entire of itself; every mountain area is a part of the State of Colorado, a part of the whole state; if a clod be washed away by the sea, the mountain area is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's bad road diminishes me, because I am involved in all of the roads; And therefore never send to know for whom the road tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne (1572 - 1631), Meditation XVII (as amended 2008)

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