East Vail residents worry about impacts from project to redo I-70 on Vail Pass
Project to improve safety on Vail Pass comes at an estimated cost of $750M
VAIL — Under the best possible scenario, it will be several years before Interstate 70 is expanded through East Vail. But some residents are concerned now.
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s project team held a Feb. 13 meeting at the Vail Golf Club clubhouse. There, members of the project team went over the results of a noise study required for the project. The study will guide future action on the project, and could include one noise wall.
That study was conducted in the summer because snow can muffle highway noise. That data was used to create models for future noise if the highway is expanded to three lanes on both the eastbound and westbound lanes on the west side of Vail Pass.
If the project is ultimately funded — to the tune of an estimated $750 million — work will start roughly halfway up the 10-mile climb to the top of the pass. The portion through East Vail will come last, and will be the most expensive. Karen Berdoulay, the transportation’s district engineer, said 16 bridges will have to be replaced. If laid end to end, those bridges would stretch 1.6 miles. That’s going to be expensive.
But it will also cost a lot to smooth currently tight curves, redo runaway truck ramps and add wider shoulders in addition to a third lane. The project will also redo the bike path up the pass, add wildlife crossings and attempt to ease the highway’s impacts on Gore Creek.
What about the noise?
But residents at the Thursday meeting were concerned about noise.
Under the current studies — which are subject to review and revision during the required federal environmental analysis of the project — two areas would be eligible for noise walls.
One would be on the north side of the interstate just east of the East Vail interchange. That wall, which could be as high as 20 feet, would run roughly parallel to Fall Line Drive, which leads to the Pitkin Creek townhomes and other multi-family neighborhoods. The wall could also protect the Pitkin trailhead.
The other wall would shield single-family and multi-family homes, as well as the Bighorn trailhead.
Both would be effective, according to the study. But only the first wall will be built.
Federal standards demand that a noise wall cost no more than $6,800 per affected person — “receptors” in government-speak. The first wall will help more people, so its cost can be justified.
The second wall affects fewer people, and would cost nearly $12,000 per receptor. That means it won’t be built.
Local government can’t help cut the cost of the more expensive wall. Vail Public Works Department Director Greg Hall said that local governments can’t participate in those projects, so richer communities won’t be advantaged over less-affluent ones.
Some residents at the meeting were skeptical about the impacts detailed in the study.
Dan Megnin said he worries that a third westbound lane will result in higher speeds and more noise. He said he’s worried that the study doesn’t address noise from compression release devices on heavy trucks commonly known as “Jake brakes.”
Noise from the highway “is the worst thing about being a Vail resident,” Megnin said, adding there’s a very short list of bad things about living in town.
Fellow East Vail residents Jim and Sharon Glenn also worried about increased speed and noise from westbound vehicles.
Mary Jo Grace said she’s more concerned about the highway’s potential future alignment than outright noise.
“Something needs to be done,” Grace said. “But there doesn’t seem to be that much room (for improvements).”
Grace said she’d rather see an investigation into a rail system for the I-70 mountain corridor.
Vail resident Tye Stockton also acknowledged the need for improvements on the pass. “I’m glad they’re being proactive,” Stockton said.
Whenever the environmental analysis and final designs are approved, a waiting game for funding will start.
Berdoulay said grants have been applied for to jumpstart the project. All those grants could add up to about $250 million, enough to start work on the first phase of the project.
That phase, would start roughly at mile marketer 185, about five miles up the pass. Work would start on the eastbound side, then expand to smooth the curves on the downhill side, then move the existing bike path.
If everything goes exactly according to plan, Berdoulay said work could begin in 2023.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.