Monday, December 20, 2010

Colorado ‘zipper’ a bad option

Travel eastbound along Interstate 70 on Sunday evenings in Colorado can be particularly troublesome for truckers. Throngs of skiers returning from a weekend on the slopes are blamed for slowdowns along a 15-mile portion of the roadway on the Front Range.

Possible solutions are plentiful, but funding for a fix is not. A stopgap solution entails the Colorado Department of Transportation getting to work on installing “zipper lanes” on the affected stretch of road.

The plan calls for temporarily converting one westbound lane into an eastbound lane from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday ski weekends.

A CDOT study on the scheme came up with what should be rather obvious conclusions. It was determined that eastbound drive times would be significantly reduced along some stretches while westbound vehicles would likely experience much longer drive times, and more accidents.

This is a clear cut example of give and take. Truckers and other drivers traveling westbound would be giving up more of their drive time with the increased possibility of their vehicles taking a beating.

You may ask how likely it would be that state officials would back such a plan. It appears to be a definite possibility. During the 2010 legislative session, Colorado lawmakers backed a plan to study the zipper-lane option. The results are expected to be revealed within the next month – in time for the opening of the 2011 session.

At that time, lawmakers will be asked to decide whether the project is worthy of throwing money at to complete. CDOT estimates it would cost $24 million for the one-year pilot program, but there is no grant, or funding mechanism, in place to do the work.

To add insult to injury, Colorado has a budget shortfall tabbed at nearly $1 billion next year. That is not exactly the kind of financial situation that lends itself to getting anything done.

The reasons for the predicament the state finds itself in are numerous. Officials could do a better job of managing the revenue the state already receives. The federal government also shoulders the blame.

It is extremely frustrating that there still is no clear direction from the federal government on a long-term transportation authorization. Without a clear path forward, this is the sort of “solution” states are left to consider.

2 comments:

  1. For several years now Colorado has been doing this method through the Eisenhower Tunnels since they are only two lanes each way. On Sundays they would close the left west-bound lane in that bore and let east-bound cars cross over then merge back once through the tunnel. It has worked well for that short segment because Sundays have the lightest west-bound volume of the week.

    However, there are still some slowdowns for west-bound traffic as they approach the bore and I am not certain if they do this if Loveland Pass (US-6) is closed because haz-mat loads would have to use the tunnel as well.

    A longer segment would create such a logjam that east-bound trucks would be significantly delayed to the point that drivers may very well run out of hours and there are virtually NO safe places to park between the scales at Downieville and Grand Junction except for the truckstop at about exit 42 and the fairgrounds about 100 miles east of there.

    (The CDOT does publish a book;rt that lists how many spaces are available at certain off-ramps but that legally applies only when the highways are closed. It can be downloaded [PDF] from http://www.coloradodot.info/library/Brochures/Truck_Parking_Guide.pdf/view)

    Another issue somewhat related to this, or may explain part of the state's highway budget deficit, is that under the current Federal highways appropriation formula, Colorado receives less than what it sends to D.C. for in Federal fuel taxes. This is common for most Rocky Mountain states. The current formula uses population or population densities and not highway miles to allocate funds. That is why Colorado is a "donor" state but New Jersey is a "beneficiary" state because NJ receives more than what they collect. Changing this funding structure with the next funding law to be debated in the incoming Congress will help remedy this inequity and may result in smoother highways in the Rocky Mountain West.

    ReplyDelete
  2. For several years now Colorado has been doing this method through the Eisenhower Tunnels since they are only two lanes each way. On Sundays they would close the left west-bound lane in that bore and let east-bound cars cross over then merge back once through the tunnel. It has worked well for that short segment because Sundays have the lightest west-bound volume of the week.

    However, there are still some slowdowns for west-bound traffic as they approach the bore and I am not certain if they do this if Loveland Pass (US-6) is closed because haz-mat loads would have to use the tunnel as well.

    A longer segment would create such a logjam that east-bound trucks would be significantly delayed to the point that drivers may very well run out of hours and there are virtually NO safe places to park between the scales at Downieville and Grand Junction except for the truckstop at about exit 42 and the fairgrounds about 100 miles east of there.

    (The CDOT does publish a book;rt that lists how many spaces are available at certain off-ramps but that legally applies only when the highways are closed. It can be downloaded [PDF] from http://www.coloradodot.info/library/Brochures/Truck_Parking_Guide.pdf/view)

    Another issue somewhat related to this, or may explain part of the state's highway budget deficit, is that under the current Federal highways appropriation formula, Colorado receives less than what it sends to D.C. for in Federal fuel taxes. This is common for most Rocky Mountain states. The current formula uses population or population densities and not highway miles to allocate funds. That is why Colorado is a "donor" state but New Jersey is a "beneficiary" state because NJ receives more than what they collect. Changing this funding structure with the next funding law to be debated in the incoming Congress will help remedy this inequity and may result in smoother highways in the Rocky Mountain West.

    ReplyDelete

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