Vail underpass plan takes step forward
March 4, 2014
VAIL — Building a long-desired underpass between Vail’s frontage roads is the biggest public works project the town has seen in a long time. So town officials are taking a long, hard look at just where to put it.
The underpass is going to require a lot of excavation — lowering the North Frontage Road by 15 feet in places in addition to digging under the interstate.
Perhaps the trickiest part, though, is exactly where to put the underpass and, probably, a roundabout for each frontage road.
The north side roundabout is the biggest question right now. The Vail Town Council on Tuesday agreed to go forward with designing the underpass’ north side between the Simba Run and Savoy Villas condos. After hearing complaints about that location from residents at a couple of earlier meetings, council members Tuesday went on an in-person visit to the area.
“What we’re really looking for is for you to put this underpass someplace else, but that’s probably not going to happen.”
Simba Run resident
There, town engineer Tom Kassmel gave council members and condo owners at least some idea of where the retaining walls for the roundabouts might go. The stakes indicating the edge of the project are 50 feet or so from some condos. Some trees will have to be removed — although the project isn’t far enough along to know which ones — and the bike path in front of the condos will have to be relocated.
Throughout the site visit, Simba Run residents Charlie Calcaterra and Bill Pierce asked questions about the need for a roundabout, and whether a conventional “T” intersection might be safer and, ultimately, have less of an effect on the condos.
Kassmel said that Colorado Department of Transportation studies indicate that roundabouts are safer for all kinds of traffic — vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. There are also questions whether a “T” intersection is capable of handling traffic loads 20 years into the future.
A Few Feet Apart
The stakes town employees laid out for the site visit were in places only a few feet apart. But, Calcaterra said, “A few feet can make a big difference.”
But saving a few feet has council members asking for a closer look at whether a “T” intersection — similar to the one at Blue Cow Chute, just east of the Vail Village parking structure — could work along the frontage road.
Council member Margaret Rogers noted the North Frontage Road carries much less traffic than the south side, so the Blue Cow Chute model might work there.
But fellow council member Ludwig Kurz cautioned council members and residents that what might work now might not work in the next 20 or 30 years.
It all boils down to the traffic studies that will be part of the planning for the underpass.
“I know there’s a desire for a ‘T’ intersection,” council member Dale Bugby said. “But that won’t get approved unless the numbers support it.”
Council member Jenn Bruno said if traffic projections don’t support a conventional intersection, then the town should look into cutting the north side roundabout from two lanes to just one. That would save just a few feet, she said, but echoed Calcaterra’s belief that a few feet can make a big difference in the project’s effects on property owners.
Calcaterra told council members that he appreciates the work they have put into the project,and said he looks forward to seeing future plans for the underpass.
“What we’re really looking for is for you to put this underpass someplace else, but that’s probably not going to happen,” he said.