Eagle-Vail out to stop interchange
Interchange opponents may have gained a powerful ally in their 11th-hour fight to block the Colorado Department of Transportation from building the $6 million half-diamond where Interstate 70 crosses over U.S. Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail – County Commissioner Tom Stone.
“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.
Stone had previously supported the half-diamond, but after studying the project more closely and hearing residents’ opposition, he now says CDOT should spend the money somewhere else.
“Put the money into the sediment issue on Vail Pass; use it on the Spur Road down in Edwards. I can keep coming up with projects more pressing than this one,” Stone said. “Shelve the project and let’s wait and see if it’s necessary. And let’s do something that’s important.”
Stone met Monday night with members of the Eagle-Vail Property Owners Association and CDOT officials to talk about the project. But the discussions do not appear to have changed either the residents’ strident opposition to the half-diamond nor CDOT’s will to build it.
“All it’s going to do is dump a tremendous amount of traffic into Eagle-Vail,” said Ralph Dockery, president of the Eagle-Vail Property Owners Association. “The Eagle-Vail business district obliviously will suffer and the residents will suffer. This is lose-lose situation.”
Dockery is referring to CDOT’s projections that show traffic surging by 35 percent on the residential stretch of Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail west of the half-diamond while dropping by a similar amount in the commercial strip east of the interchange.
Owen Leonard, CDOT regional transportation director, said one purpose of the half-diamond is to reduce accidents in the sometimes treacherous Dowd Junction stretch of I-70 through Minturn.
“We’re hoping it will all get done this year,” Leonard said.
CDOT will put the half-diamond out for bid May 30. Construction could begin in mid-July to early-August. Leonard said stopping the project is “very unlikely.”
“It improves the operational efficiency of I-70 and will relieve traffic congestion at both of the adjacent interchanges in Avon and Minturn,” Leonard said. “It will reduce traffic at Dowd, and there’s projected to be a commensurate reduction in accidents.”
On March 8, for example, traffic throughout the valley was clogged for several hours when a string of crashes occurred at Dowd Junction during a sudden snowstorm. Both sides of I-70 were closed for almost three hours.
The half-diamond is also unpopular in Eagle-Vail because it will only have an eastbound on-ramp and a westbound off-ramp. That means Eagle-Vail residents could only get on I-70 and drive east toward Vail or get off I-70 at the half-diamond if they were coming from Vail.
Dockery said the half-diamond doesn’t make sense to residents because of the “full-diamond” interchange being built less than a mile to the west to bring customers to the Village at Avon shopping mall.
“I don’t think they’ve really taken into consideration the changes that have happened here, especially the Village at Avon and the full-diamond,” Dockery said. “This money could be better spent elsewhere in Eagle County or elsewhere in Colorado.”
Last year, the Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District’s board of directors threatened to sue CDOT to block the project. The board dropped its threats when CDOT agreed to widen and install turn lanes on Highway 6 through the residential stretch of Eagle-Vail. CDOT also agreed to install two new traffic lights.
“But we still have concerns about sound and about landscaping. CDOT said they would try to work with us to mitigate some of the impacts,” said Walter Allen, a member of the Eagle-Vail Metro District board of directors. “It’s always good to know you’re being heard, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna take your advice.”
Stone said the work on Highway 6 was not a major concession.
“There were a number of us that had a lot to do with getting those improvements done. In my mind they were necessary whether or not half-diamond went in,” Stone said.
Leonard said the only other side project CDOT has planned is a study of traffic on Highway 6 between Dowd Junction and Squaw Creek Road on the western edge of Edwards.
“There are no new elements being added to the project,” he said.
Letters from Eagle-Vail residents have been hand-delivered to CDOT chief Tom Norton and Gov. Bill Owens, who visited the area Tuesday.
“I think this will also hurt the business owners in Eagle-Vail because traffic that currently drives by the shops will most likely no longer do that,” Stone said. “You’ll never see those folks.”
Dockery said Eagle-Vail residents are now ready to go above the heads of local CDOT officials and lobby more powerful officials in both the transportation agency and the state government.
“They were respectful; they listened; they said all the right things. But I don’t think we got through to them,” Dockery said. “CDOT’s a beast and they’ve got this momentum that’s extremely difficult to stop.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.