CDOT selects preferred location for I-70, airport interchange
The full-diamond interchange would be located about two miles east of Gypsum, running from the top of the long I-70 grade between Eagle and Gypsum to Cooley Mesa Road, which serves the airport.
Because the interchange will have to cross pasture land owned by Larry and Dorothy Delpit, the Eagle River, the Nottingham Gravel Pit, railroad tracks and Highway 6, it will be nearly entirely aerial. The height of the structure would vary from 110 feet to 125 feet as it crosses the valley toward the airport.
In a Sept. 10 work session with the Eagle County Commissioners, Loren Hettinger of J.F. Sato, a consulting engineering firm that works with CDOT, said planners have dealt with some big challenges and a rigorous review process in identifying a preferred alternative for the airport interchange.
Initially, more than a dozen potential sites were identified, eventually being narrowed to four possible alternatives, which were analyzed on a variety of factors including impacts on wildlife habitat, geology, soils, land use, effects, and cultural resource impacts.
Planners also have to consider factors such as socio-economic impacts and engineering issues.
Public response to the initially identified alternatives sent planners back to the drawing boards.
“When we first went to the public, we took a lot of heat. We took a step back to make sure we had everything covered,” said Keith Powers, CDOT’s resident engineer in Eagle County.
The preferred alternative had the fewest impacts, Hettinger said. CDOT will publish the environmental assessment information in April or May of 2003. The study will be subject to a 30-day review and comment period.
Construction of the interchange was originally expected to begin as early as 2003, before a transportation funding shortfall hit the state budget. Early this year, however, a construction date for the interchange was pushed into the indefinite future.
Tuesday, Powers said funding for the project is in the 2005 and 2006 CDOT budgets. Construction would start in the summer of 2005. He said the best strategy for the project is to have the plans ready to go when state and federal funding is released.
Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi asked why it was needed.
“I can’t confidently sell this to the community,” he said, questioning how residents of Eagle and Gypsum would benefit from the interchange.
Powers said traffic models had yielded some astounding projections for future downvalley traffic projections.
“Twenty-five year projections show people won’t be able to drive through Eagle and Gypsum in 2025,” said Powers.
Powers said winter ski traffic from the airport is getting to the point that a four-lane road is needed to handle the volumes currently on Highway 6.
“Without this interchange, Gypsum and Eagle would change dramatically,” he said.
Without the interchange, the options for Eagle and Gypsum would be to either deal with massive traffic congestion, or to widen Highway 6.
Commissioner Tom Stone said the interchange will serve traffic beyond the airport’s customers.
For example, he said, the Buckhorn Valley subdivision, located southeast of the airport, will have nearly 900 homes at full build-out, and more development is anticipated in the Gypsum Creek Valley.
“It’s not a question of selling the public,” Stone said.
Powers said engineers might consider a roundabout traffic configuration at the intersection of the interchange and Cooley Mesa Road.
For more information, visit the project’s Web site at http://WWW.i70-airport-interchange-ea.com.
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.