Vail Daily column: Traffic, pollution problems
Ryan Summerlin April 18, 2014
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report. We publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town. The newsletter electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at www.vailhomeowners.com.
Chief among the town’s problems are congestion and environmental pollution. Congestion and pollution can become the unintended consequences of growth, especially during hard economic times. If prolonged, the quality of the experience suffers and the economy will be stifled. It does not appear that Vail has yet suffered any serious negative effects but the Homeowners Association believes that the time for action is now, before these problems get out of hand. Unfortunately, the present draft of the town’s “areas of focus” does not treat these as priority areas of concern.
We will report extensively on the pollution of Gore Creek later in an upcoming VHA newsletter. The town’s edited draft of the council’s “areas of focus” report recommends completion of the actions recommended in the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan and “appropriate sized” environmental programs. What all this means remains to be determined.
Congestion is manifested in many ways: on Interstate 70, in the town of Vail’s traffic, its parking and on the slopes of Vail Mountain. All are potential long-term problems for Vail because consumers tend not buy when they perceive overcrowding or deterioration of quality. Unprecedented crowds tend to put people off, particularly day visitors. Even if snow conditions remain good, such an experience can create a disincentive to return on following weekends. Overcrowding also undermines Vail’s strong base of loyal destination guests and confounds Vail’s efforts to improve its lead over its competitors as an international destination resort community. These are, therefore, problems that call out for political leadership. But finding solutions will not be easy. It will require creative, long-term, visionary leadership.
LACK OF VIABLE SOLUTIONS
There is a lack of viable solutions for I-70 congestion. Vail’s I-70 rush hour traffic, both eastbound and westbound, has become a common problem in the summer and winter seasons, with major shut-downs in the winter and huge weekend delays throughout the year. CDOT has tried slowing and metering traffic through the Eisenhower Tunnel to no avail. Currently, CDOT is widening the Twin Tunnels at Idaho Springs, but that will not bring any relief to areas west of the Eisenhower Tunnel. Widening I-70 to Vail is presently cost prohibitive and, in the view of many, the wrong solution. Creating even more traffic by an expanded roadway will only increase environmental pressure and noise pollution in Vail, where interstate noise levels already exceed national standards.
For years, proponents of a high-speed rail have touted that as the solution but, even if feasible, there is no funding for it. At the present, it is not possible to predict the amount of time it will take to make the drive between Vail and Denver on Interstate 70. According to traffic projections, delays on I-70 will likely become worse. Town leaders have taken steps to address the problem but much more is needed. The town draft plan recommends mitigation strategies to reduce the impact of I-70, but traffic congestion is not one of the issues to be addressed. While Vail cannot compel CDOT to take any specific action, I-70 congestion should be a major focus of Vail’s action plan and the town should pursue every avenue of redress, including pushing the issue to the national level.