The planning process for the Interstate 70 Vail Underpass project is off to a productive start, thanks in part to the commitment made by those involved to work together to understand the complexity of the project and to fully explore its impacts and solutions. The stakes are high in that millions of dollars have been committed to address a growing traffic congestion problem in Vail with a solution intended to provide relief for the next 20 or more years.
While the list of stakeholders is vast, including multiple federal, state and local agencies, we couldn’t be more impressed with the involvement that has taken place by representatives from the impacted neighborhoods. From the beginning, property owners from the Simba Run and Savoy Villas condominiums, in particular, have participated in planning workshops and have met with engineers on site to learn more about the project and to offer constructive suggestions. The leadership efforts of Charlie Calcaterra, from Simba Run, and Bob Llewellyn, from Savoy Villas, are to be commended for their solution-minded approach. Participation is also taking place from property owners on the project’s south side. Together, their actions represent community involvement at its best. The dialogue has been constructive, thoughtful and above all, respectful.
Perhaps what makes this project so successful, to date, is due to a general agreement by those involved in the need for an underpass. This project has been included in our community master plans and the Colorado Department of Transportation’s long-range planning for the past 20 years. Once in place, it will provide congestion relief at the Main Vail and West Vail interchanges by offering an alternate route to cross the interstate. Located halfway between the two interchange exits, the underpass will shorten the route between the north and south frontage roads for vehicles, transit and emergency services. It will also provide a safe passageway for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The project is currently in the preliminary design stages after narrowing the location from 12 possibilities. Selection of the preferred alignment has been based on efforts to find a solution with the fewest environmental, social and physical impacts. The next steps will require extensive environmental scrutiny to evaluate noise, light, air and water quality impacts associated with a configuration that will necessitate lowering portions of the adjoining Frontage roads by as much as eight to 10 feet on the south side and 12 to 15 feet on the north side. Analysis of future traffic projections also will be taking place to determine the appropriate engineering solutions that will be used to connect the underpass with the frontage roads. Those options currently range from roundabouts to a T-type intersection. Acquisition of private property will also be required.
While there are many more decisions to be made before the project is finalized, we’re heartened by the commitment by all involved to work through the multitude of issues with an outcome that will benefit the community for the long-term as the ultimate goal. Let’s all work together to get it right.
Andy Daly is the mayor of Vail.