The future of I-70 public transport

Andrew Fraieli
afraieli@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/2/22

A new bus route from Denver through Idaho Springs and all the way to Avon opened Memorial Day weekend.

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The future of I-70 public transport

Posted

A new bus route from Denver through Idaho Springs and all the way to Avon opened Memorial Day weekend.

Called “Pegasus,” the shuttle van’s route runs Friday through Sunday — with a few late afternoon times on Thursday and early morning times on Monday — and costs only $6 round trip from Idaho Springs to Denver’s Union Station and back, and up to $20 from Denver to Avon. Buses arrive every hour, but the wait between buses is shortened to 45 minutes in the afternoons.

Still, Clear Creek County Commissioner Randy Wheelock wants even more public transport.

Wheelock had been working with the I-70 Coalition and the I-70 Collaborative Effort for almost three years to get these smaller versions of the Bustang buses out on the roads and was on the maiden journey of the bus line on May 27.

The goal is to “create more mobility and transit services for Clear Creek County and the whole I-70 corridor,” he said.

To prove his point of the functionality of the buses, Wheelock remotely attended a Front Range Passenger Rail meeting — of which he is a non-voting member of the Board of Directors — through the bus’s wifi.

He wants to make sure they are thinking about “integrating with all the rest of us, so we have a state-wide integrated transit system that people can really use,” Wheelock said.

I-70 Coalition is a non-profit representing 28 local governments and businesses along the I-70 mountain corridor, according to its website. Some of those governments include Eagle County, Aspen, Avon and Brekenridge, along with Clear Creek County. 

The I-70 Collaborative Effort is a project through the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to address transport solutions in the I-70 mountain corridor. Similarly, it’s made up of 28 members including some local governments — like Clear Creek County — but also multiple CDOT representatives, the US Forest Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the I-70 Coalition itself and the Federal Transit Administration.

“A really big piece to think of is that Clear Creek County is a very small county, sandwiched around the I-70 corridor,” Wheelock said. “And there’s a huge amount of demand for transportation, and a huge amount of economy that’s built around people satisfying that demand, from the Denver area to the mountains.”

Wheelock said the demand is made up of around 3.5 million people, but will eventually grow to 5 million. And this is what both organizations and Wheelock are trying to address.

A large amount of the Collaborative Effort’s non-infrastructure ideas are various improvements in public transport as well as people’s thoughts around it, including shuttle buses like the Pegasus and finding ways to “change the car culture and build transit ridership.”

The Collaborative Effort's work plan includes “incentivizing” the use of these public transit options, and building “support for high-speed transit in the future.” 

“We’re kind of like the mouse trying to lead the elephant around and not get stepped on,” Wheelock said, referring to Clear Creek County commissioners and leaders trying to chair these organizations to help keep the county's interests in mind in the projects.

A major structural project is the Coalition’s and CDOT’s Floyd Hill Project which aims to fix a two-lane bottleneck between Floyd Hill and Idaho Springs by adding a third lane, among other structural improvements to the highway.

These small public transport improvements and further highway fixes will “add some additional capacity to this corridor, but will not fix the congestion issues,” according to the I-70 Coalition.

Widening the highway and an improved transit system would be required to “meet the needs of the I-70 mountain corridor into the year 2050," according to the Coalition.

The idea the Coalition has for an improved transit system in its long-term plan is currently not financially feasible, though. 

CDOT did a study on the feasibility of an Advanced Guideway System (AGS) — a generic term for a high speed transit system like a monorail that would add “significant capacity” — and it was found to be “technically feasible but is not financially feasible at this time.”

The cost for these projects, like the AGS, would be “many billions of dollars” according to the Coalition, with CDOT being the organization to fulfill these ideas.

But CDOT’s budget is “barely able to cover Operations & Maintenance, much less building new capacity,” and CDOT estimates it has “$9B worth of backlogged projects/maintenance needs.”

Wheelock points to the cost of driving your own car through the I-70 corridor as a good motivator to try the Pegasus.

He explained that after insurance, oil changes and other car maintenance, it costs about 55 cents per mile to own a car. “It cost me $39 today, in three different segments, to ride 234 miles. My vehicle would have cost me, for that same 234 miles, about $129. Looking at the gas cost alone, it would have cost me about $35. So, it cost me just four more dollars to be able to do this, save costs ... and reduce climate impact.”

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