Vail Pass project draws questions
Open house participants asked about noise, light mitigation and the prospect of work on weekends
When you hear that the mountains have two seasons — winter and construction — it’s only sort of a joke.
This construction season marks the first of a few years of extensive work on Interstate 70 on the west side of Vail Pass, between mile markers 180 and 190. That’s the stretch from the top of the pass to, roughly, the East Vail exit.
The work is needed to make the highway safer. That stretch of road has the highest accident rate on I-70 through Colorado.
The work this year is part of the first phase of the project. That phase will include:
- Building a third eastbound lane between mile markers 185 and 190
- Modifying westbound curves and widening the shoulders at mile markers 186 and 188
- Bridge replacements both east- and westbound at mile point 185.3
The first phase will also include wildlife underpasses, an improved highway closure system intended to close the road quicker when needed and 2 miles of recreational trail relocation between mile markers 185 and 187.
That part of the work is funded, and will take roughly three seasons. That’s just the portion that’s funded. The Colorado Department of Transportation in 2020 was awarded $69.1 million in federal grants. The department contributed $101.4 million.
The entire project has an estimated cost of between $700 and $800 million.
Colorado Department of Transportation representatives, along with others on the project team, held a March 31 virtual open house to update residents and take questions.
A couple of viewers asked about the prospect of installing noise walls through East Vail.
John Kronholm of the transportation department said the addition of third lanes triggered a federal noise study. That study included examining areas where noise barriers could be “reasonable and feasible.” For this project, Kronholm said the only area recommended for mitigation is on the north side of the interstate near Fall Line Drive. Other areas didn’t meet federal criteria, Kronholm said.
Another viewer asked about overnight work. Project engineer Matt Figgs said there will be “periods” of overnight work in the section between mile markers 185 and 190.
Figgs added there will be work on weekends, but the current schedule doesn’t anticipate lane closures or blasting work on weekends. There will be some traffic holds, he added, but those should only last between 20 and 30 minutes.
Figgs also fielded a question about when construction impacts will begin.
That’s going to happen the first week of April, Figgs said. Travel lanes will be narrowed for the work, then taken back to full width this coming winter.
A section of the recreation path will also be narrowed while that section is moved away from the highway. That will result in a 2-foot reduction in width.
Responding to a question about possible barriers to shield drivers from oncoming headlights, Colorado Department of Transportation Resident Engineer Karen Berdoulay said glare screens will be installed in spots where the eastbound and westbound lanes are at the same level. On Vail Pass, that’s near mile markers 185 and between miles 187 and 188.