Gas-line work will disrupt traffic between Minturn and Edwards | VailDaily.com

Gas-line work will disrupt traffic between Minturn and Edwards

EAGLE, Colorado – Motorists beware – construction of a nearly eight-mile stretch of 16-inch natural gas line underneath the westbound lane of U.S. Highway 6 from Edwards to Dowd Junction is slated to begin May 16 and continue throughout the coming summer.

Tuesday the Eagle County Board of Commissioners discussed the project as part of a special use permit application from Xcel Energy to build a 7.92-mile section of high pressure natural gas line. According to both company personnel and representatives from the Colorado Department of Transportation, the project is “precedent setting” because of its nature and location.

Mike Verkitus, CDOT utility permit coordinator, said the state doesn’t usually allow construction of high pressure natural gas lines under roads, but the nature of this valley combined with the need for the improvement convinced CDOT to approve the project.

“There is no other viable option,” said Verkitus. “We acknowledge the need for this pipeline.”

With that decision, the state and Xcel have worked on safety measures for the finished line and building schedules for the construction period. The scheduling aspect of the project will be a tricky balance, they noted.

With special events such as the Avon Independence Day celebration, Ride the Rockies and more, it will be important to make sure traffic delays are minimized during times when lots of extra people will be traveling along U.S. Highway 6. But even when the schedule isn’t crammed with special events, Verkitus noted the highway is an important traffic route that motorists depend on and that includes “some of the most impatient drivers that we have seen in this area.”

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Because of traffic impacts, Verkitus lobbied for a schedule that involves more night work. That makes sense, noted Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon, especially in areas such as Eagle-Vail where the construction could have a big impact on businesses. But in other areas, where the surrounding neighborhoods are residential, Runyon noted daytime work is likely preferable.

Jimmy Smith of Xcel Energy said that requiring an aggressive night work schedule for the project could be counter productive because it will mean the overall schedule would likely extend beyond the proposed completion date of Sept. 30. He asked the commissioners to avoid setting any conditions on the special use permit that would mandate specific hours in favor of a commitment from the company and CDOT to closely monitor the project and schedule work hours accordingly.

Smith pledged that the company would be particularly sensitive to special events planned in the valley this summer.

“We have made a very concerted effort to work with the community on these events,” he said.

The commissioners agreed in theory with the request to allow both day and night construction, but opted to table the special use permit decision until next week when specific language can be worked out to detail the county’s conditions for approval. Noting that the schedule to begin work on the pipeline is tight, the commissioners indicated their vote will accommodate the project’s anticipated May 16 start date.