Vail ponders building smaller roundabout
May 10, 2014
What’s the project?
The Colorado Department of Transportation is funding about two-thirds of a $20 million project in Vail to link the town’s north and south frontage roads about halfway between the main Vail and west Vail interchanges.
Town and state officials say the project — which is set to start in 2016 — will ease traffic at the exits, and also provide a more efficient to get around town for everyone from pedestrians to fire trucks and town buses.
While the state is funding the bulk of the project’s cost, the town of Vail has agreed to pay about $6 million for the project.
VAIL — No matter the project, every foot of built or un-built space in Vail is valuable. An idea for a new roundabout at a new Interstate 70 roundabout will save quite a few feet from the path of construction equipment, a development that's being cheered by neighbors.
While the proposed underpass — which would link Vail's North and South Frontage roads about halfway between the main Vail and west Vail exits — has been envisioned for more than 20 years, it took the first on-the-ground work on the plan to reveal just how close the north roundabout would be to the Simba Run and Savoy Villas condos. The closest unit to the new roundabout would be about 50 feet — roughly the distance between the back of the room and the mayor's seat in the Vail Town Council's meeting room.
'Every Foot Matters'
That distance had Simba Run and Savoy Villas residents concerned about additional noise, light and other impacts from the projects, and led to a mantra of "every foot matters."
“I want to thank the engineering team for going beyond the call of duty to come up with a solution that works for everyone.”
Simba Run resident and Vail architect
Trying to get a bit more distance between the road and the condos led to tinkering with ideas that included variations on a standard "T" intersection on the north side. That's the kind of intersection used at Vail's "Blue Cow Chute," the intersection of South Frontage Road and Vail Valley Drive. There was also talk by some residents that Vail might be ready for stoplights — which, of course, is just crazy talk.
All that led to Tom Kassmel of the town's engineering staff and consultants from Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, a transportation planning company, to eventually land on the idea of using a "compact" roundabout on the north side.
That sort of roundabout is similar to the one at the entrance to Singletree in Edwards. It's about 30 percent smaller than a standard roundabout's 150-foot diameter — that's roughly 105 feet.
There's a complication with a smaller roundabout, though — big trucks can't navigate around one without rolling their trailers into the island part — that makes landscaping tricky, at best, Kassmel said. And that's one reason the Colorado Department of Transportation hasn't yet approved a "compact" roundabout on the state highway system.
But, Kassmel told the council, the north frontage road doesn't see much big-truck traffic, and the road could have signs prohibiting big rigs from turning there, sending them instead to the full-sized roundabouts at either main Vail or west Vail.
And, he said, if a big truck happened to run over some landscaping, it would still be able to navigate the roundabout without getting stuck.
A Welcome Idea
There's still a lot of work to do on the project — even the preliminary design portion of the planning hasn't started yet. But the idea for a smaller roundabout was welcomed by both council members and condo residents.
Charlie Calcaterra, a Simba Run resident and a member of the committee that's been working with the town, said he's confident that a plan putting a compact roundabout right between the condo complexes would be "positively received" by residents.
"This seems like a winner all around," Calcaterra said.
Fellow Simba Run resident and longtime Vail architect Bill Pierce agreed.
"I want to thank the engineering team for going beyond the call of duty to come up with a solution that works for everyone," Pierce said.
And, in this case, "everyone" really does mean "everyone."
While the compact roundabout idea hasn't yet been tried, or approved for use, on the state's highway system — of which the North Frontage Road is a part — Martha Miller, a local engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation, smiled and nodded when council members asked if the department would give its blessing to the idea.
And all five council members present Tuesday — Dale Bugby and Dave Chapin were absent — endorsed the idea.