Helicopters hover over Dowd Junction’s future | VailDaily.com

Helicopters hover over Dowd Junction’s future

Matt Zalaznick

Transportation engineers have been flying over Dowd Junction this week to examine two active rockslides on the south side of Interstate 70. The engineers were doing “sub-surface geological investigations,” says Keith Powers, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s engineer in Eagle County.

“Those two areas are two of the biggest slides in the state,” Powers says. “They’ve moved in the past and we’re double checking the existing conditions to see if they’re moving.”

Even the department of transportation calls the aging interchange “substandard.” The rockslide analysis, which includes “heli-drilling” and installation of monitoring equipment, is part of a much larger study in which the agency plans to extensively renovate Dowd Junction.

Proposals include widening I-70 and “cutting the corner” with a tunnel, Powers says.

The agency also is determining whether a light rail or monorail line will fit into into Dowd Junction.

While accidents occur throughout the interchange, most crashes occur where cars merge onto I-70 from the eastbound on-ramp and where the westbound off-ramp intersects with U.S. Highway 6. Occasionally – and particularly during the winter – these crashes involve one or two jackknifed big-rigs, shutting down I-70 for hours.

Engineers say the eastbound on-ramp doesn’t give cars enough space to get up to highway speeds before entering traffic on I-70.

That dilemma is the main reason the agency is building the half-diamond interchange less than a mile west in Eagle-Vail. More drivers getting on and off I-70 in Eagle-Vail should reduce congestion – and hopefully crashes – in Dowd Junction.

Powers says engineers also are using the helicopter to determine the stability of rock underneath the slides.

“We’re analyzing what any future construction might be like in there —

whether it’s roadway widening, new bridges or tunnels,” Powers says.

“It’s an all inclusive effort to find out what’s below the ground and what problems we might run into so we can better get a handle on what we can or can’t build and what it might cost,” he adds.

The rockslides are not the only natural obstacle complicating construction in Dowd Junction, however. The tight canyon is a migration route for elk and deer herds that the Colorado Division of Wildlife is unlikely to let the transportation agency alter.

It is also where Gore Creek flows into the Eagle River, forcing engineers to build around and over the streams without harming the health of the waterways.

The U.S. Forest Service is assisting with the study, Powers says, and the helicopter has been using the parking lot at the Holy Cross Ranger Station as a landing pad.

The interchange renovation design the agency settles upon will almost certainly be expensive and isn’t likely to be built for about a decade.

The department of transportation is in the middle of a major, multi-year study of traffic on the mountain stretch of I-70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs. The central purpose of this “corridor” study is to find out the best and least congested ways for people to travel through the mountains in the coming decades.

The study is analyzing highway expansion and improvements as well as alternative methods of transportation such as monorails and commuter trains.

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

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