Eagle-Vail interchange may get the ax
In the wake of more than a year of fierce opposition from Eagle-Vail homeowners, the Colorado Department of Transportation chief Tom Norton says if county residents don’t want the interchange he’ll spend the $6 million tagged for the project somewhere else in the state.
“People think we’re forcing it down their throats, but there are other places we can go,” Norton said. “If people don’t want traffic problems solved, we’ll let them stack up in traffic and go another place where people want their traffic problems solved.”
To provide CDOT with a consensus on the interchange, the Eagle County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the half-diamond in their chambers in the Eagle County Building Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m.
That thrills Eagle-Vail Property Owners’ Association President Ralph Dockery, who lives in the neighborhood and is co-owner of one of the neighborhood’s few bars, Paddy’s.
“I think it’s unbelievable that they actually listened to the residents of Eagle-Vail and are willing to do something about it,” Dockery said. “We’d like to have as many concerned citizens as we can go down there to express their opposition to this.”
Just a few weeks ago, the fight against the half-diamond seemed futile, with CDOT planning to begin looking for contractors at the end of the month to build the interchange where Interstate 70 passes over U.S. Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail.
Residents were outraged by CDOT’s own predictions that traffic would jump by more than 30 percent on the residential stretch of Eagle-Vail west of the interchange. CDOT’s figures also forecast traffic would drop by a similar amount through the business strip east of the overpass.
The battle heated up dramatically this week when Eagle County commissioners Tom Stone and Mike Gallagher dramatically changed their stances, adding their voices to the strident opposition coming from Eagle-Vail residents. The commission, along with county engineers, had supported the interchange – until Stone, the lone commissioner facing reelection in November, said he was against the half-diamond after meeting with Eagle-Vail homeowners and CDOT officials.
“I think the losers here are the residents of Eagle-Vail, who will have to put up with an elevated level of traffic without any commitment, now or in the future, of any mitigation of the traffic,” Stone said.
If a majority of people at Tuesday’s meeting say that they don’t want the half-diamond built, CDOT will kill the project, Stone said.
“We’re inviting people from Eagle-Vail and the surrounding areas to come and weigh in on the half-diamond,” Stone said. “I think Norton will take our input and make his decision from that.”
The interchange is called a half-diamond because it will have a westbound off-ramp into Eagle-Vail and an eastbound on-ramp. A driver in Eagle-Vail would only be able to get on the interchange and head east to Vail.
“Engineers always support ways to move traffic better and they look 15 to 20 years out,” Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad explained. “Anytime money is available to enhance roadways they support those improvements and it’s up to the politicians to decide the community’s needs.”
Meanwhile, a full-diamond interchange is being built in Avon less than a mile to the west of the proposed half-diamond. That interchange is being built by the developer of the Village at Avon shopping and residential complex to serve shoppers and homeowners.
“I said I don’t understand why you have the half-diamond here and the
full-diamond there,” Gallagher said. “Norton said they’re handling traffic that goes different places. They said it’s justified by the numbers.”
“The project has been on the list for some time and of course we have not really had a formal discussion on this for quite awhile,” Ingstad added. “What I’m hearing is that, with the development approvals at Avon and the full-diamond, a lot of things have changed since we last talked about it.”
Gallagher and Stone have said there are more pressing traffic needs in
Eagle County, such as Edwards’ troubled Spur Road and the traction sand problems on Vail Pass.
“I am not a traffic engineer, but I’d rather see the Spur Road fixed,” Gallagher said.
Norton, however, said the Spur Road is not the next project on his agency’s list of priorities.
“The money won’t stay in Eagle County,” he said. “It will go to the next priority.”
Norton said Eagle-Vail residents will have to endure “serious” traffic problems in the future in exchange for not having to deal with the half-diamond.
“The traffic is there,” he said. “The reason the developer is building an interchange is because there’s enough traffic to warrant a full-diamond and there’s enough traffic to warrant a half-diamond.”
And it may be decades before CDOT returns with a project for Eagle-Vail, he said.
“It may be 10 to 15 years before it comes back as a priority,” Norton said. “The traffic is going to be there and the community needs to figure out if they want it piled up or if they want to relieve it.”
CDOT was ready to build the half-diamond last summer, but the project was sidetracked when bids received from contractors were all too expensive. And this winter, the half-diamond survived a state budget crisis that nearly killed it.
“If the rest of the people in the valley are going to sit back and say we don’t care and the Eagle-Vail people are governing, so be it,” Norton said. “But we have to make sure that the people who make the most noise aren’t a minority.”
Dockery wasn’t declaring victory Friday. But he was calling on Eagle-Vail residents to show up in force at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.
“A lot of times big bureaucracies don’t listen to residents, but it’s nice to see that, in this case, they do,” he said. “I would really like to see a good turnout.”
Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at email@example.com.