Construction roundup: New roundabout lanes debut in Vail; rockfall work will close Glenwood Canyon July 27, 28 | VailDaily.com

Construction roundup: New roundabout lanes debut in Vail; rockfall work will close Glenwood Canyon July 27, 28

EAGLE COUNTY — One of the oldest cliches in the high country is that we have two seasons — winter and construction. This construction season has hit particularly hard.

Traffic in Vail has been various degrees of flummoxed since April, when work began on a new underpass beneath Interstate 70. That project built two bridges in about 90 days, but slowed traffic on the interstate to a crawl. The bulk of that project has now moved to the town's north and south frontage roads.

That move has created unexpected amounts of traffic on the south frontage road, especially between 4 and 6 p.m. To help alleviate that congestion, the town, with the approval of the Colorado Department of Transportation, has established a new configuration for roundabouts at the main Vail interchange. The new configuration now runs two lanes northbound underneath the interstate and out onto westbound I-70.

Vail Town Engineer Tom Kassmel said the idea for the new configuration is actually envisioned in a town transportation master plan that dates to 2009.

But, given the amount of traffic on the south frontage road now and the fact that level of traffic is expected to continue into September, the town dusted off the old plan, then asked for and received state permission to put it into place.

This is a test

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The roundabout configuration is running on a trial basis, depending on how well it works. But, Kassmel said, a practice run using town vehicles showed that the roundabout capacity increased about 30 percent in the go-home direction.

Kassmel urged patience, and cautioned drivers to pay attention to staying in their lanes.

"We've only had it place about an hour and we're seeing drivers cut corners," Kassmel said early Monday afternoon. "Please stay in your lane."

Kassmel also advised drivers to understand what lane they need to be in, so they don't need to change over while navigating the roundabouts.

Those headed home on North Frontage Road should be in the outside, or right-hand lane. People headed toward I-70 can use either lane and will be merged into one lane before getting on the interstate.

Kassmel said town and state officials were surprised by the amount of traffic on the south frontage road, adding that three major construction projects, combined with visitors and people going to and from work have put a lot of pressure on that section of road.

OTHER PROJECTS

Other I-70 projects in Vail will require a little less patience, but motorists need to be ready to slow down. Like the underpass, an expansion of the truck chain-up area in East Vail will take the construction seasons both this year and in 2017 to complete. There's also a guardrail replacement project on Vail Pass.

Outside of Vail, the Colorado Department of Transportation Monday started work on a culvert replacement project on U.S. Highway 24 on the south end of Minturn. That project also includes creating a right-turn lane into Maloit Park, the road into the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy.

That $1.3-million project is expected to last into October. Normal working hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will be flaggers at the construction site, and motorists should expect delays of up to 10 minutes.

There's also a railroad crossing project at Bond in northern Eagle County. That work, by the Union Pacific Railroad, closed State Highway 131 all day Monday, with 10-minute delays expected the rest of the week.

Closing the canyon

By far the biggest project this week is in Garfield County in Glenwood Canyon

Following a February rockfall that closed the canyon for several days, the Colorado Department of Transportation is now working on a roughly $1.7 million project to install rockfall fencing on the west side of the Hanging Lake tunnels. That project is building a total of 200 feet of fencing as much as 300 feet above the canyon floor. That high work will require helicopters to fly materials to the site, and that means the highway will be closed from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. July 27 and 28.

During a Monday press call, project engineer Jim Stepisnik said the fences — which are up to 16 feet tall — are designed to withstand millions of pounds of force. The fences are also designed to catch any boulders that might jump the higher fencing.

Closing the highway for the bulk of two days will require some lengthy detours. Independence Pass through Aspen is open, but no commercial vehicles are allowed to take that route — plus, that can be a daunting stretch of road for inexperienced mountain drivers. Other detours take motorists literally hundreds of miles out of their way.

On this side of the canyon, trucks will be allowed to park at a parking area in Dotsero, with other parking allowed along the frontage road between Gypsum and Dotsero. Cars won't be allowed to line up on the highway waiting for the road to re-open, requiring one of two tactics.

"We're encouraging people to stop and enjoy the resort towns along the (I-70) corridor," Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

Ready to slow down?

Here’s a look at some of the major construction projects along state-maintained roads in the area:

• Vail: The biggest project is the new underpass beneath Interstate 70. Other projects include a truck chain-up area along eastbound I-70 in East Vail, as well as work on projects on Vail Pass. For information on the underpass project, go to http://www.codot.gov/projects/i70vailunderpass.

• Minturn: The Colorado Department of Transportation is replacing a culvert on U.S. Highway 24 at Cross Creek on the south end of town. Work will continue into October.

• Bond: The Union Pacific Railroad is working this week on railroad crossing improvements on State Highway 131.

• Glenwood Canyon: I-70 through the canyon will be closed from 9 a.m. to 3:30 July 27 and 28 as part of a project to install rockfall fencing near the Hanging Lake tunnels. You’re going to have to use detours or wait, and you can’t just queue up on the highway. The public information hotline number is 970-618-1457, or email glenwoodcanyoninfo@gmail.com

A statewide project list is on line at http://www.codot.gov.