VAIL — After more than 20 years of talk, it looks like a plan to put an underpass beneath Interstate 70 near the Simba Run condos may become a reality before this decade ends.
The Colorado Department of Transportation on Thursday announced it would fund a big portion of a new underpass between town’s north and south frontage roads, using money from the department’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships fund. Statewide, 44 projects were funded for a total of $580 million.
Vail Public Works Director Greg Hall said that while proposals for the underpass have been around for years, there’s now another big load of work to do, including environmental assessments and, ultimately, the final location of the underpass.
All that work could take 18 months or more, Hall said, which makes 2016 the most likely year for construction to start.
How people move around town
When the project is finished, town officials are excited about what it will mean for people getting around town. The short version is that the underpass will eliminate a trip through either the West Vail or Main Vail interchanges for many motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians who want to go from one side of the interstate to the other. Getting from, say, the post office to Matterhorn will be a much shorter, simpler trip.
“It’s going to dramatically change how people move through town,” Vail Mayor Andy Daly said.
Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler said that the underpass will help emergency vehicles and town buses, too.
Also, pedestrian crossings will perhaps be much safer. While there’s a pedestrian overpass between the interchanges, Zemler noted there’s a well-worn path from the Timber Ridge apartments across the interstate. That’s both illegal and quite dangerous, he said.
The underpass will also extend the useful life of the Main Vail and West Vail roundabouts by several years. State transportation officials grade highways and intersections on a “level of service” grade from A to F. Just like a report card, an “F” is a bad thing. Daly said the state’s projections put the roundabouts at service level F during peak times within the next 10 years or so. Moving a lot of traffic away from the roundabouts will delay that failing grade.
“It’s a really big deal for the town,” Daly said. “It addresses a lot of things for us.”
The town is putting up about $6.2 million of the project’s $20 million cost, but Daly said the underpass wouldn’t have happened without the state’s help.
“We couldn’t have afforded to do this on our own,” he said.