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Will This New Proposal Make Colorado’s I-70 Traffic Suck Less?

The Colorado Department of Transportation wants to add passenger vans to the highway next season to ease the I-70 slog.

If you’ve driven I-70 from Denver to any of the Front Range ski resorts, then you know: Colorado’s ski traffic is no joke. The state’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) installed an express lane a few years ago—basically a glorified shoulder—and charges between $6 and $13 to use it, but it’s barely made a dent on high-volume days.

Now CDOT is trying another approach. (No, not light rail, unfortunately.) Department planners have proposed a series of shuttle vans designed to transport Denver skiers up and down I-70 during peak ski months beginning next season. 

I-70 traffic
Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

If this sounds vaguely familiar, you’re probably thinking of Bustang service, which CDOT launched in 2015. While it wasn’t originally conceived as a recreational bus service, a lot of skiers do ride the Bustang, so much so that there are never enough busses—or bus drivers—to fill the need. CDOT says it anticipates an increased demand for Bustang service next winter,  and this is part of the effort to satisfy it.

The new proposal, which will go to the board for approval next month, focuses on 14-passenger vans, which eliminates the need for drivers to have a Commercial Driver’s License and makes it much easier to hire drivers. These smaller vans will also be less than 25-feet long, which also means they’re allowed to use the express lanes.

If it gets the green light, the service will start in December 2021 with 11 vans transporting skiers between Denver’s Union Station and Avon Station, with stops at Vail Transportation Center, Frisco Transfer Station, and Denver Federal Center RTD Light Rail Station. The vans will more than double rider capacity to 744 available seats from the Bustang’s 306 during peak travel times. (The Bustang and Snowstang will also be running, pandemic willing; the vans will augment that service, not replace it.)

Snowstang
The Snowstang runs from Denver to Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, and Steamboat. Photo: Courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation

Shuttle fares are proposed at $20 per person from Denver to Vail/Avon, $14 from Denver to Frisco, and $5 from Frisco to Vail/Avon, with multi-ride, senior, and child discounts. For comparison sake, the Bustang costs $17 from Denver to Vail and $12 from Denver to Frisco. The Amtrak train to Winter Park, which runs from Denver’s Union Station to the ski area but was suspended for the 2020-’21 season due the pandemic, costs $29 to $59 each way, depending on fare class.

While no ground transportation along I-70 would be as fast or efficient as light rail or some type of train travel—there have been myriad proposals, studies, and discussion over the years, and CDOT continues to consider the options—adding shuttles as soon as next ski season is at least a small step in the right direction from an environmental, economic, and accessibility standpoint.