VAIL — Putting just about anything new along Vail’s frontage roads is a tricky proposition. A project that will include a lot of excavation, several retaining walls of various height and, probably, a pair of roundabouts is trickier still.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday heard an update about the progress of that project — an underpass beneath Interstate 70 that will link the north and south frontage roads between the Main Vail and West Vail interchanges. The project has been discussed for more than 20 years, and last year it received state funding, with the town paying just less than one-third of the $21 million estimated cost. The trickiest part right now is figuring out exactly where to put the thing.
Early work had selected a “preferred” site for the underpass and its two roundabouts. That site will affect condos at both the Simba Run and Savoy Villas complexes, which had drawn complaints from property owners.
Responding to property owners’ requests, council members in January put Tom Kassmel of the town’s engineering department to work on possible alternatives. Kassmel on Tuesday talked about a couple of new alternatives to the “preferred” site. He also looked into relocating the underpass’ north side to the Timber Ridge apartments.
That site seems out of the equation, for a couple of reasons.
First, reconstruction of the eastern half of the Timber Ridge property is set to start this spring. A possible roundabout would result in the loss of between 12 and 24 apartments of the just more than 100 planned for the site.
Then there are federal requirements. Kassmel said the Environmental Protection Agency has “environmental justice” regulations that prohibit “disproportionately” affecting affordable housing projects at the expense of others.
That left two options besides the still-preferred alternative. Kassmel said both those options present difficulties ranging from creating inclines that are too steep to retaining walls that are too high to possible affects on Gore Creek.
Charlie Calcaterra, a board member of the Simba Run property owners’ association, praised Kassmel’s work but reminded council members of the impacts on him and his neighbors. He noted that the project puts the nearest home 50 feet from the closest retaining wall, walking to the back wall of the council room to show the distance. Lights from cars would likely shine into units on the upper floors at Simba Run, he said.
Simba Run unit owner Bill Pierce asked whether a roundabout is strictly needed on the North Frontage Road part of the project. While the underpass is supposed to make bicycle and pedestrian crossings easier, too, Pierce said it’s hard to negotiate roundabouts on either foot or bike.
Council members asked Kassmel to answer questions about the prospect of a “hybrid” underpass, with a roundabout on the more heavily-used south side and a conventional intersection on the north.
Council members will take an in-person look at the prospective underpass locations the afternoon of March 4.