Jan 292008
Authors: Nick Hemenway

To many college students, a perfect weekend in Colorado is found on the snow-covered slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Whether you ski or snowboard, the only things you need are a jacket and a ride to the mountain.

However, if some Colorado lawmakers have their way, the drive to the ski resorts could become more costly.

Anyone who has been to the slopes, especially on the weekends, knows that the worst part of the day is the traffic along I-70. From the large trucks to the vans full of out-of-state tourists who don’t know how to drive on snow, the morning commute in the mountains is always a headache of stop-and-go traffic.

Every few years, legislators throw forth a new idea of how to unclog the main artery into the mountains.

In 2001, some proposed an elaborate monorail system to take riders from Denver International Airport all the way to Vail. This vision was short-lived due to its $4 billion price tag and its unproven performance in mountain terrain.

In the latest revelation from our state legislature, Sen. Chris Romer (D-Denver) has introduced a plan to charge fees to skiers and snowboarders who use I-70 during the weekend morning rush hour and to reward those who travel outside of peak driving periods.

According to the plan, skiers could be charged anywhere from $5 to $12 per trip for driving up the mountain between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. on the weekends, depending on traffic. If they wait until after the rush, they would be rewarded to the tune of $25.

Sen. Romer, explaining the program, told the Rocky Mountain News, “you’re just reallocating money from those who are time-sensitive to those who are price-sensitive, and that’s a perfect market-based solution.”

Apparently, the senator doesn’t know the difference between the free market and socialism.

How exactly the fees would be enforced is the question for the ages. Romer offered some vague suggestions.

One idea has ski resorts taking the lead in enforcement, involving parking lot attendants with scanners dolling out fees based upon the time vehicles arrive at the resort.

There’s a great idea — have the ski resorts fine their own customers for coming to their businesses after spending an arm and a leg on lift tickets.

The other concern regarding a fee and reward system is making sure it is financially viable.

Romer flaunted his program’s incentives, saying “What teenager or college student wouldn’t take $25 for gas money to move their departure time up 45 minutes? Throw in a Chipotle burrito, and you’ve probably got all of them.”

Time for some math. Let’s say each week, one-eighth of our student body were to drive up to the resorts, packed four people to a vehicle, during the off-peak periods both Saturday and Sunday. Each vehicle would receive $25 per trip. Over the length of a single four-month ski season, those CSU students alone would receive about $625,000.

Even with funds gained from the rush hour fees, that is a mountain of money to offset for such a small number of people.

Everyone wants to make the drive to the resorts less stressful, but imposing a fee on drivers (also known as taxpayers) for using the highways that they already own is not the right answer.

Maybe the senate could use some of that $15 million in Referendum C money that magically found its way into the CDOT budget last year alone.

Nick Hemenway is a senior mechanical engineering major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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