"Half-diamond’ work well underway | VailDaily.com

"Half-diamond’ work well underway

Matt Zalaznick

Work has finally begun on the controversial half-diamond interchange the Colorado Department of Transportation is building where Interstate 70 passes over U.S. Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail.

CDOT workers this week squeezed Highway 6 down to one lane in stretches – causing minor traffic havoc – while they installed concrete barriers to prepare for sewer line and underpass construction, says Keith Powers, the agency’s resident engineer.

“Unfortunately, when you first break an egg things get a little messy,” Power says.

Workers will install more barriers Monday and Tuesday. After that, traffic should flow smoothly, Powers says.

“Once it’s all cordoned off, you shouldn’t see many more flaggers,” Powers says. “There shouldn’t be too much interference with the flow of traffic through there.”

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The half-diamond is only one of three construction projects underway within about a mile of each other on Highway 6. The developer building the Village at Avon shopping complex is renovating the bridge over the Eagle River at Nottingham Ranch Road.

The developer will also install a roundabout at the nearby intersection later this fall.

Between the bridge work and the half-diamond, workers are expanding the tunnel that Eagle-Vail golfers use to get under Highway 6.

“We’ve got a lot happening,” says Walter Allen, an Eagle-Vail Metro District board member. “If we’re going to be inconvenienced, let’s do it all at one time.”

The Eagle-Vail interchange is called a half-diamond because it will only have ramps in two directions –an eastbound on-ramp and a westbound off-ramp. That means a driver will only be able to get on I-70 and travel east from the interchange, toward Vail, and only drivers in the westbound lanes of the interstate will be able to exit in Eagle-Vail.

CDOT says the half-diamond should reduce accidents at the sometimes treacherous Dowd Junction interchange a few miles away in Minturn. The half-diamond should reduce the number of drivers who have to merge onto the interstate at the sharp curve in Dowd Junction – the spot where the most accidents occur in that notorious stretch of I-70.

The interchange has stirred controversy in Eagle-Vail among a group of residents who fear the half-diamond will swamp their neighborhood with noise and traffic. But CDOT’s projections forecast that, in the next 20 years, traffic will increase on Highway 6 by about 35 percent – with or without the half-diamond.

“Once all the dust settles, I’m not sure traffic will increase on Highway 6 simply because, with three traffic lights and a roundabout, people aren’t going to be able to race down it at 60 mph,” Allen says. “My guess is people will use I-70, and that’s probably a big plus for Eagle-Vail.”

And now that the construction is underway, those residents and others in Eagle-Vail have switched their focus to Highway 6.

“We’re still in dialogue with the county to try to create a safe path for the kids of Eagle-Vail to get across the highway to the Village at Avon,” Allen says.

CDOT will install a traffic light at Stone Creek Drive and another traffic light and crosswalks where the exit ramp will intersect with Highway 6 next to the Eagle-Vail Exchange building.

Powers says he hopes drivers and bikers will cooperate with workers while the half-diamond is under construction, Powers says.

“We won’t drop the speed limit if drivers can be patient, behave and be courteous to others,” Powers said. “For the most part, people have behaved. There’s just been a few bad apples.”

Some bicyclists have also caused problems, Powers says.

“Many road bikes are ignoring the flaggers,” Powers says. “Thursday morning we were flagging and we had three bicyclists go right by the flagger, right into head-on traffic.”

Traffic could be pinched again Monday and Tuesday, when workers will be installing more concrete barriers, Powers says.

At this time next summer, Highway 6 will probably be a much different road, Allen says.

“I think everyone will find that the Eagle-Vail on-ramp is in fact much safer than the Minturn on-ramp in the winter,” he says.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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