Avon wants more ways across the tracks | VailDaily.com

Avon wants more ways across the tracks

Nicole Frey

AVON – If the masses had their way, two new railroad crossings would be built immediately to connect Avon’s town center to an incoming commercial development on the Eagle River called The Confluence. But the court is still undecided. About 20 people, including some Vail Valley heavyweights, spoke out during a public hearing this week before the state Public Utilities Commission, which will have final say on the two crossings requested by the town of Avon.Avon assistant town manager Jacqueline Halburnt stressed the necessity of the crossings for the town’s economic viability.”It’s crucial to have those crossings to allow people to go back and forth,” she said.Halburnt said she and others fear guests at The Confluence – a development Halburnt envisions will be similar to Vail Village or Lionshead – will not venture to Avon without the crossings, depriving the town of valuable retail dollars.”I think (the crossings are) critical for the existing town and those who will live in The Confluence,” said Nancy Nottingham. “I just can’t stress how important it is to have a feeling that is similar to (Vail’s) Bridge Street.”Seeing the pedestrian model as an ideal, Nottingham encouraged the commission to designate one crossing for solely pedestrian traffic, while opening the other to cars. While some echoed Nottingham’s interest in a pedestrian crossing, nearly all agreed the crossings are one of the best ways to connect the proposed development to the town; that in turn would strengthen the town’s financial standing, increase property values and stimulate growth.During the hearing, Union Pacific officials suggested adding crossings could be dangerous. However, valley residents who voiced their opinions during the public comment said creating the Confluence without additional crossings would be far more risky. “It make a lot more sense than driving around,” said Dave Nelson, property manager for the Seasons condominiums, who anticipates people will flood into the Confluence because of its proposed gondola to the Beaver Creek ski mountain.Adam Aron, chief executive of Vail Resorts, said he’s found ski boot prints in the most unlikely areas left by enthusiastic skiers taking the most direct path to ski lifts. He assured Dale Isley, the administrative law judge for the commission, if crossings aren’t built, skiers and snowboarders will cross the tracks anyway, making for a potentially hazardous situation. The Public Utilities Commission’s staff, which is separate from the commission, has recommended the commission deny the crossings for several reasons, including the Federal Railroad Administration’s efforts to reduce the number of railroad crossings across the country and a commission analysis that determined the crossings aren’t necessary. The staff also said there is evidence the line, which has been rarely used in the past nine years, may be used more frequently in the future. Union Pacific officials had previously countered Avon’s request by asking the crossing at West Beaver Creek Blvd. and Millie’s Lane be closed, but the commission decided the question would be considered separately from the request to open two crossings. Representatives from Union Pacific, Public Utilities Commission staff and town of Avon will have one week to submit final arguments, after which, Isley will have two weeks to give his decision. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or nfrey@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado