Monorail report: We could build it
Scott N. Miller
October 12, 2004
EAGLE COUNTY - Supporters of a high-speed monorail got
good news and bad news Monday.
The good news is that a new, federally-funded study shows that technology exists
to build a "magnetic levitation" high-speed transit system between
Denver International Airport and Eagle County Regional Airport in just five
years or so.
The bad news is that the study offers no insight into how to
fund such a system, which is estimated to cost about $38 million per mile along
the 155-mile route. That per-mile cost estimate adds up to roughly $5.9 billion,
not counting additional engineering, right of way acquisition and other costs.
| What's a mag-lev?
|• Mag-lev is an abbreviation of
• The technology uses magnetic fields to create a gap between
the car and the rail, meaning the car "floats,"
suspended between magnetic fields.
• Vehicles are propelled by electric motors.
• There are no "mag-lev" systems operating in the
United States, but systems have been developed in Japan, China
• The cost of a "mag-lev" transit system between
Denver International Airport and Eagle County Regional Airport
is estimated at $38 million per mile, not including costs of
additional engineering, environmental studies, construction
management costs, traffic control costs, or environmental
The results of the study were detailed at a press conference Monday in
Evergreen. That conference was called by the remnants of the Colorado
Intermountain Fixed Guideway Authority as a prelude to a full report to the
Colorado Legislature when that body convenes in January.
The conference was also an opportunity for advocates to lobby state
transportation officials to reopen the door to transit in the continuing process
of drafting a "Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement" or PEIS,
for the Interstate 70 corridor through the mountains. That study is not yet
complete, but early drafts have left out any high-tech transit options, which
have been dismissed as too expensive.
"We're hoping that before the PEIS is finalized, they're reconsider the
transit options," transit advocate Miller Hudson said.
Hudson said the state put an artificial cap of $4 billion on any future I-70
improvements, in large part to cut out transit options.
But the state's top transportation official said the $4 billion cap is the outer
reach of what the state might conceivably be able to afford in the foreseeable
"We had to eventually cap costs," Colorado Department of
Transportation Director Tom Norton said. "In this case, we set the
threshold at $4 billion, even though we only have identified $1 billion in
And, given the state's continuing budget shortages, Norton said there isn't much
help on the horizon.
"We're lucky to get enough money now to keep things glued together up
there," Norton said.
While the report - which was finished in June - states that its findings
"differ somewhat" from the information used to put together the
environmental statement, Hudson said there's enough different to reopen the
"This is kind of old stuff," Norton said.
While not yet set, the current environmental statement for I-70 points toward
more lanes, limiting access to the highway at peak times, bus service and other
And, Norton said, the high-tech option isn't completely out of the picture.
"We're going to preserve the corridor," Norton said. "If
something comes along in the next 20 or 30 years, maybe we'll be able to do
The next couple of decades is when some traffic studies indicate traffic on I-70
may approach gridlock.
Hudson said congestion and possible economic losses at the resorts might
encourage state voters to consider funding a high-tech transit system.
State voters in 2001 overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to fund a pilot project
to test a high-speed rail system into the mountains. The measure failed in 60 of
the state's 63 counties - passing only in Eagle, Summit and Clear Creek
"We found that the farther voters were from I-70, the less likely they were
to support it," Hudson said. That, he added, led to the uncomfortable
conclusion that voters along the corridor may be asked to foot the lion's share
of the bill for a system.
"That's not fair, because the residents there aren't causing the problem,
it's Front Range users," Hudson said. If a system is again presented to
voters, Hudson said it will require a combination of user pain and education to
get it passed.
For now, though, the best way from Denver to Vail is still a car, even if
traffic is bad.
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vail Daily, Vail Colorado