2008-05-05

Times And Seasons In The I-70 Corridor

It seems like another era when I was a kid in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. My dad would take me hiking, camping and jeeping. What I enjoyed most was fishing. There were days when we took our eight-per-person limit of fish from places like Lake Ivanhoe, Allen's Basin and Yamcola Reservoir. We learned that there were times and seasons when the fish were biting. Some times we happened to hit it just right and we couldn't keep our lines in the water for all the fish we were catching. More often, however, we had between few and none to show for our travels.

Right now, articles like this are common because the time and season is right to fund and build a rail-based solution for the I-70 corridor. This is the time that the Interstate 70 driver has nearly every reason to ditch his car and board a train bound for the Colorado high country. Crowding on the highway is at an all time high and likely will continue to climb for at least the next 20 years. Gasoline prices are prohibitively expensive, causing families to cancel or scale back their plans. These same prices are fueling an employment boom on the western slope, which sits on a vast reserve of oil and gas. I-70 figures to be the one highway everyone is talking about and trading in rubber on asphalt for steel on steel sounds more and more reasonable with every penny-per-gallon and every car-per-day.

Though it pains me as a consumer to say this, the worst thing that could happen as far as I-70 rail proponents are concerned is for gas prices to drop or remain at it's present level. Consumer demand would adjust and prices would normalize, and the numbers of voters and drivers willing to support a rail-based option would not expand but contract. Talks of a solution would shift to paving or other low-cost quick fixes.

Strategically speaking, the push for rail needs to grow and change from promoting a "gee, isn't this a good idea" aspect to advocate a lasting, growth-minded improvement that will offer Colorado a 50-80 year solution instead of a 10-20 year fix. Opponents of rail really don't have anything to compete with that, and their only gripe will be the price involved in any lasting change. Colorado has put off this solution for too long and we are reaping the results of such deference today. Our choice is, do we perpetuate the cycle and produce the same-old tired approach of more lanes in finite space or do we end it by instituting an improvement that will last longer and go further to build our economy?

I don't get up to the mountains as much as I used to. That's a refrain we'll hear more and more as the Rockies become our biggest liability, rather than our biggest asset if we continue to pave our way with good intentions. Rail offers true options, and the season has never been better to start building.