VAIL - On a deep powder day or holiday weekend like this one, expect to see a jam-packed town and mountain, evidenced by hundreds of cars parked along the South Frontage Road in Vail.
The town of Vail has traditionally been allowed to use South Frontage Road for overflow parking when its garages are full, based on an agreement the town has with the Colorado Department of Transportation. In the winter, the number of days allowed has been 15 and in the summer that number is three days.
But those numbers became obsolete with the town's lease agreement with the Department of Transportation, said CDOT spokeswoman Ashley Mohr.
"However, (the Federal Highway Administration), CDOT and Vail regularly review the number of days and the improvements made," she said. "Vail has complied with constructing the necessary improvements in a timely manner."
While the topic of who should own the Frontage Roads has come up again and again in recent years, Mohr said there have been no recent discussions with the town of Vail regarding ownership.
"Instead, we have now entered into a lease agreement for the parking on the Frontage Roads. As part of the lease agreement, Vail is required to make safety improvements, such as widening or sidewalk and curb and gutter improvements," she said.
The town of Vail has invested a lot of money into improvements, Vail Assistant Town Manager Pam Brandmeyer said. Both the town and the Department of Transportation recognize that they're both working toward a common goal. Brandmeyer said the Department of Transportation has been flexible with the town in response to the town's responsible management of the situation.
And because the town has constructed and implemented the necessary safety improvements, the Department of Transportation is satisfied with the current lease agreement, Mohr said.
The town of Vail is committed to limiting the use of South Frontage Road parking to 15 days each in the summer and winter, while the agreement with the Department of Transportation has secured the town's long-term ability to use the road for overflow parking.
The agreement also "acknowledges a phased schedule of required safety improvements to be completed by the town over the next two years. The current lease runs through May 1, 2013, and includes a payment of $20,000 to CDOT funded by Vail Resorts."
In 2012, Vail completed a second phase of a South Frontage Road shoulder widening project from the East Vail underpass through the East Vail interchange, adding a six-foot-wide paved shoulder to each side of the road from Ford Park to Bald Mountain Road. Shoulder widening and drainage improvements were also made on South Frontage Road west of the Vail municipal building to the West Lionshead Circle intersection - one of the main parking areas during overflow parking days.
The town of Vail guesses that last weekend's Frontage Road parking days had to do with the Winter Mountain Games, and a snow storm the week before brought hungry powder-seekers out in masses, creating a huge Frontage Road parking day on Feb. 2 with more than 1,000 cars, Brandmeyer said. The number of times the parking garages have filled this winter stood at five as of Friday, with three more days expected this weekend.
Presidents Day weekend is a common time to see cars aligning South Frontage Road, and the town of Vail is prepared for that. Some recent snow should help entice skiers and snowboarders who may have been on the fence about coming to town, Brandmeyer said.
When cars align the road, it's proof that business is booming, but it also raises the question about how long this parking arrangement is sustainable. While some choose to use the daily free parking offered on North Frontage Road in West Vail and put up with some of the inconveniences and dangers of doing so because it's free, others are forced to park on South Frontage Road when garages fill, and there's no place else to park. Those who have parked on South Frontage Road have complained about the safety of standing on the side of a busy road while trying to gear up for the mountain.
"It's an eyesore and seems rather dangerous to me, having all those people crossing the Frontage Road in ski boots with all their gear," Jessie Ann commented on the Vail Daily's Facebook page. "Hopefully everyone is driving safe and paying attention."
Some think creating more employee parking could solve the so-called eyesore, and others thinks the problem is part of a larger problem.
"How about not seeing how many humans we can cram on the mountain at one time," commented Matt Jones.