Peak & Prairie
August / September 1999
Guanella Pass DEIS Released
by Lyn Yarroll, Mt. Evans Group Chair
After years of delay, the Guanella Pass Road Draft Environmental Impact Statement has finally been released for public review and comment.
Guanella Pass Road is a lovely, half-dirt, half-paved backcountry forest road that provides recreational access to the western side of the Mt. Evans Wilderness and to portions of the Arapaho-Roosevelt and Pike National Forests.
The saga of the proposal to “improve” this road began almost 10 years ago, after the road was designated a federal and state scenic and historic byway. After designation turned it into a well-advertised and popular tourist attraction, Park and Clear Creek counties asked the Federal Highway Administration to consider improving the road. Not surprisingly, the FHWA’s initial recommendation in 1993 was to rebuild, widen and pave the whole darn thing.
Since then, the Highway Administration has been overseeing the studies needed for the project’s Environmental Impact Statement. To fulfill National Environmental Policy Act requirements, they’ve also come up with four other alternatives to improve the road, including a “no build” alternative and three others that could lead to paving and widening the entire road sometime in the future. They’ve worked hard to ignore less drastic recommendations and a (sixth) alternative proposed by the Mt. Evans Group.
Location, location, location
That little mantra sums up exactly why paving and widening Guanella Pass is such a bad idea. Take a look at any state map—note that the road provides a convenient connection between Interstate 70 and Highway 285, two of Colorado’s major highways.
Note also that the road is located between the Mt. Evans Wilderness (to the east) and two large roadless areas, known as Square Top and Burning Bear, to the west. Granted, quite a few nature lovers travel the road on summer and “fall color” weekends, but, due to the road’s current condition, nobody can drive fast even if they want to, and most people know that it’s a lousy way to get from 285 to I-70. Hence, heavy traffic is a pretty rare occurrence, and the critters can mosey across the road just about any time they feel like it.
Now let’s turn this little road into a beautifully smooth, well designed, two-lane highway. Let’s increase the volume of traffic by 150 to 225 percent (FHWA’s estimated increase in its Traffic Volume Projections report), so that instead of 690 vehicles using the road on a typical summer Sunday, we have up to 2,242 noisy, pollution-belching, speeding vehicles on the road in one day. Let’s watch the car accidents increase and the roadkill numbers soar.
Or, maybe, let’s not. Instead, let’s acknowledge how much we all will lose if Guanella Pass Road is turned into yet another highway. Let’s stabilize the slopes that are eroding and causing sedimentation problems by building retaining walls that are covered in native stone. Let’s rebuild the parts of the road that are causing severe drainage problems, while leaving other parts untouched. Let’s pave only where fugitive dust creates a problem for local residents, and leave other parts unpaved. Let’s keep the road at its current variable widths. In other words, let’s go with the Mt. Evans Group alternative! Let’s all do everything we can to ensure that this road is never used as a connecting highway for commercial use, so that both the wildlife and people can always enjoy this area as a haven of rest and refreshment.
What you can do:
Write comments (by August 30th) to the FHWA (and to Park and Clear Creek County commissioners). To get a copy of the Mt. Evans Group Action Alert, which provides an outline of MEG’s alternative and guidelines for comments, please check the group’s website at www.rmc.sierraclub.org/meg/; or contact Lyn Yarroll at 303-838-8117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The DEIS is posted on the Federal Highway Administration’s website at: www.cflhd.gov/projects/co/guanella/deis.htm.
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