VAIL — Sure, it was April 1, but Vail — the place where roundabouts were invented locally — may actually take a hard look at a future with one stoplight in town.
For most of this year, residents at the Simba Run and Savoy Villas condominiums have been lobbying hard to take the north-side roundabout out of an Interstate 70 underpass project. That project is designed to take traffic away from the main and west Vail interchanges by giving motorists another place to get from the north to the south frontage roads.
The project has been contemplated for more than 20 years, and always with roundabouts.
TOO CLOSE TO HOME
But when the project became reality last year, and town officials started looking seriously at where that underpass might be built, owners at Simba Run and Savoy Villas got an up-close look at just how close the roundabouts and their attendant retaining walls might come to some of the units there. The answer: as close as 50 feet, roughly the east-to-west length of the Vail Town Council meeting room.
That easy-toss-of-a-softball distance prompted Simba Run and Savoy Villas owners to lobby the town council for a “T” intersection instead of a roundabout on that side of the underpass.
There’s still more work to do regarding traffic counts and such before any lasting decisions are made, but the T intersection — with a westbound “bypass” lane such as the one seen on southbound U.S. Highway at Buena Vista — seems to be gaining some interest from some council members.
COMING AROUND TO STOPLIGHTS
But here’s the really weird part: Residents of the condo buildings say they’d be willing to accept a stoplight at the underpass if traffic demands it in the next 15 or 20 years.
This happened in a town that once declined a fully-funded renovation of the main Vail interchange because it included stoplights, a move that led to the construction of the town’s first roundabouts.
‘EVERY FOOT COUNTS’
Charlie Calcaterra, who’s been representing Simba Run owners at council meetings for the past several months, has said more than once that “every foot counts” when it comes to the road’s proximity to homes. And a T intersection would put an extra 20 feet or so between the road and the closest condo.
“You have an opportunity here,” Calcaterra said. “You have the opportunity to do what’s right for the town in relieving traffic at the roundabouts, and for pedestrians and cyclists, and what’s right for property owners.”
But a number of questions remain. Some council members questioned the accuracy of a traffic study done by the town’s engineering department and engineers at Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, a Denver-area consulting firm.
VAIL TOWN COUNCIL’S TAKE
Council member Dale Bugby in particular wanted to know if some of the traffic estimates were “double-counting” cars that had already been on North Frontage Road.
The question of stoplights is also far from resolved.
Council member Margaret Rogers said she’d be willing to waive the town’s design guidelines to allow a stoplight at the intersection.
“God forbid that Vail should have a stoplight,” Rogers said, adding that in an ideal world, a roundabout makes sense. But, she said, a roundabout at that site doesn’t seem to make practical sense.
But council member Greg Moffet had a different view.
“The people who got us where we are today fell on their swords over this,” he said. And, he added, the numbers seem to indicate that roundabouts seem to be the best solution over the next 20 years of so. Those numbers are how state and federal transportation officials will evaluate the project, and those numbers may demand something besides a T intersection.
Town staff and consultants will keep looking at the numbers, in feet and in cars. Hard decisions are coming over the next several months.