May 7, 2014
Maybe last year's relatively painless construction gave us unrealistic expectations about the traffic impacts to expect while crews build five roundabouts along Eagle's Eby Creek Road.
But now that construction is focused on the Eby Creek Road/Chambers Avenue intersection — the busiest single spot in town — motorists in and through Eagle are now feeling the pain in the form of long traffic lines, shifting lane configurations, loads of dirt and lots of workers and machines. On any given work day, traffic is backed up all along not only Eby Creek Road, but along U.S. Highway 6 and Chambers Avenue.
"I think the phase of construction we are in now, and will be in for the next two months, is the worst its going to get," said Eagle town engineer Tom Gosiorowski. "
Because Eby Creek Road is the only Eagle access to Interstate 70 as well as the town's most popular destinations, including City Market and the U.S. Post Office, there really isn't a practical way to avoid the construction zone.
"What we are seeing, standing on the side of the road every day, is people are getting less tolerant," said Gosiorowski. "Two years of construction is starting to wear on people, but everyone needs to remember this is a brief period of suffering and then we will be in great shape for the next 20 years."
Easing the pain
As the construction crews proceed with their work, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Eagle County and the town of Eagle have come up with a couple of strategies to ease congestion along Eby Creek Road. Most notably, last week the fairgrounds truck parking was closed with variable message information signs along I-70 and standing signs in the construction area advertising the closure.
"It will be better in all respects to keep a many trucks as possible out of the work zone," said Gosiorowski. He noted that delivery trucks will still be traveling through the area, but they will not be making what has become a tight turn west at Chambers Avenue.
While it might not seem like it, the fact that work has begun at the Market Street roundabout is also helping the overall project. Flatiron Construction, the general contractor for the project, has an extra crew available to start at Market Street and ultimately, the sooner the work starts, the sooner the construction season ends.
Construction zone extension
As motorists have experienced, the Eby Creek Road construction zone isn't limited to just roundabouts in that roadway. The project necessitated water line construction along U.S. Highway 6 last week, condensing the travel lanes in that area. The Eagle River Bridge is being expanded to accommodate a new travel lane. Because all this work is happening next to moving traffic, it can be disconcerting to see an open trench just feet from the travel lane.
"One of our main focuses is to keep it safe," said Gosiorowski. To make that happen, motorists need to drive slowly and pay attention. What's more, they need to be courteous.
Gosiorowski said most motorists apply lift line etiquette to the construction area. For example, they will allow cars backed up on Capitol Street to alternately join the line along U.S. 6. There hasn't been a rash of accidents along the construction zone, and the incidents that have happened to date occurred at the completed I-70 roundabouts and were the result of bad decisions or drinking and driving.
During the next three months, motorists will see the two remaining new roundabouts at Chambers Avenue and Market Street take shape and retaining walls rise. The US6 roundabout will be expanded and retaining walls will get a makeover, with stone veneers with installed along the new walls.
"We will have a functioning roundabout at Chambers Avenue in August. Of course it won't be completely done at that point, but it will be functioning. That's going to be a great time and traffic will get better instantly," said Gosiorowski.
In addition to the driving public, pedestrians and bike riders will have reason to celebrate by August, when the new pedestrian bridge over I-70 opens. The bridge itself will be set in place weeks earlier, some time around 2 a.m. so that impacts along I-70 can be minimized. The entire Eby Creek Road project, including landscaping and other beautification elements, is slated for completion in November. People who want weekly schedule information are urged to visit http://www.coloradodot.info/projects/i70ateagle/i-70-eagle-interchange-project.
But as far as the next few weeks and months go, expect the roundabout ouch to continue.
"There's jut not another good alternative route for people to take," said Gosiorowski. "Right now, we are right in the middle of everyone's life."