"Rollins Pass Road reopening remains controversial 24 years later
By Joe Rubino
Camera Staff Writer
POSTED: 02/14/2014 09:30:59 PM MST | UPDATED: ABOUT 10 HOURS AGO
It has been nearly a quarter-century since vehicles traveling up Rollins Pass Road were able to pass through Needle's Eye Tunnel, allowing visitors to traverse the high tundra back and forth between Boulder County on one side and Gilpin and Grand counties on the other.
Considering the ongoing controversy about what reopening the road could mean to the area, and the estimated costs associated with it, it remains unclear if or when it will ever be reopened.
The Boulder County commissioners, in response to a request by Gilpin and Grand county officials to reconnect the road and open it to vehicular traffic, held a hearing Thursday to gather public input on the idea.
About 200 people attended the hearing, according to Boulder County spokeswoman Gabi Boerkircher. And more than 45 of them spoke at the hearing, offering input that Boerkircher described as pretty evenly split between support and opposition.
The Rollins Pass Road last connected Rollinsville on the east side with Winter Park on the west in 1990, when an interior rock fall in Needle's Eye Tunnel cut off the route.
Among those who spoke in favor of reopening the Rollins Pass Road was longtime Boulder County resident Edward Wiegand, who argued the pass should never have been closed in the first place.
He said the "slight mishap" in the tunnel 24 years ago could have been repaired, but following litigation against Boulder County, officials chose not to reopen it and have stood in the way of it being opened since.
Wiegand, who said he considers himself a "dirt bike rider, a jeeper, a mountain biker, a hiker and a hunter," said there are ways to open the pass without repairing the tunnel, including using an old wagon road outlined in the county staff's presentation.
"We're not asking for a new road; we're asking for an existing road that should never have been closed to be reopened," Wiegand said, noting his argument was supported by many who enjoy off-highway vehicle recreation. "This area is owned by the citizenry, and to keep it closed because one county wants to make some kind of environmentalist statement is just not fair to the entire public, not just motorized recreationalists."
Much of the opposition to reopening was based on how it could negatively impact the nearby Indian Peaks and James Peak wilderness areas.
In an email to the board of commissioners, Longmont resident Jim Eastman wrote, "I think it would be bad policy to have a public road running between these two wilderness 'gems' that we are trying so hard to preserve. By allowing unlimited vehicle traffic along this road the erosion impact and the human impact from vehicle passengers in this sensitive area would be huge."
Wiegand called this argument "scare tactics," saying people who run into the dead-end at the tunnel are more likely to go off road and disturb the surrounding habitat than those allowed to continue on through. But the commissioners expressed concern about the possible impacts.
"I have to say I am worried about the potential impact to the wilderness landscape," Commissioner Elise Jones said.
From her standpoint, though, the biggest hurdle to reopening Rollins Pass Road is financing.
In the county staff presentation, it was estimated that repairs to the tunnel, the road — including the deteriorating trestles that support it in places — and a required environmental review could add up to nearly $10.5 million. Jones said there are questions about just who would be required to pay for it, adding that the U.S. Forest Service has not expressed interest in raising such funds.
"I am very aware of the fact that if Boulder County is going to spend millions of dollars on something, this is not at the top of the list," she said. "There are a lot of roads that are first in line to be repaired, including our many flood-damaged roads."
Commissioner Deb Gardner echoed the concerns about costs and the environment, but said many people Thursday made compelling arguments about why the road should be reopened for historical reasons. She said it could take time to arrive at a decision on what to do next.
"I think we're still in information gathering mode," she said. "Nothing is going to happen tomorrow."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This was my first county government meeting since moving to Boulder County and I have to say other then how well organized and professional the meeting was hosted I'm disappointed (not surprised) how slanted and disingenuous the county commissioners, engineers and the public information officer are on the subject. Heck, even the local newspaper can't get some of the information correct.
For example, the floods were terrible, people lost property and lives, but the county is using that as a reason to not fund this project. What they aren't mentioning is the 70-90% FEMA / SEMA will fund/reimburse the county for its expenses to return the county to pre-flood conditions.
After over 20 years of dealing with county officials in my past career, researching this topic, attending the meeting and listening to all the presenters it would be my opinion that this project has a better then average chance of passing, but it'll take a lot of coordinated work and effort to promote and get it passed based on the current political/environment views of those in power in Boulder County.