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How fast can you get to the airport?

Tamara Miller
Vail, CO Colorado
Kira Horvath/Vail DailyCounty officials have long wanted to build an interchange that would direct airport traffic away from busy U.S. Highway 6 in Eagle and Gypsum.
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EAGLE ” Mike Erickson would love to see fewer cars on the streets of Eagle.

The Eagle resident said he has watched traffic on Highway 6 go from sleepy to bustling in the 10 years he’s worked as the manager of Corky’s Gas and Car Wash.

The gas station sits on the highway, which is the primary route to the Eagle County Regional Airport.

It would be a good idea to build a new interchange, which would connect Interstate 70 travelers directly to the airport, Erickson said. But, “I wouldn’t want Eagle to pay for it,” he said.

That’s why he’s fine with the idea of hitting up the federal government for funds to build the interchange, which is estimated to cost about $68 million.

“I wouldn’t want it coming out of our pockets,” Erickson said.

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners may consider hiring lobbyists to rally U.S. lawmakers for the money. Bruce Baumgartner, the county administrator, plans to present a few proposals to the commissioners soon.

The project has been a source of contention between local and state officials. The towns of Eagle and Gypsum, and Eagle County, say they can’t afford to contribute much to the project. Some local officials say the Colorado Department of Transportation should pay for some of the project, if not all of it, but state officials also say they don’t have the money.

With that in mind, the county is looking into other options, Baumgartner said.

“Because if we have to wait for the state, the money may never be found for it,” he said.

Right now, airport passengers must drive on Highway 6 through Eagle or Gypsum to get to I-70. Because so many of those passengers are heading east toward Vail or Beaver Creek, most of that traffic feeds through Eagle.

Even if airport traffic doesn’t increase over the next decade, Eagle is expected to see traffic in town double to about 50,000 trips a day, said Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell.

Studies show that traffic to the airport will become unacceptable if something doesn’t change, Baumgartner said.

If nothing changes, town leaders might have to put a halt on growth, Powell said.

“If we had funding today it (the interchange) may not be operational for five years or more,” Baumgartner said. Five years from now, traffic will be worse and the cost to build the interchange will be higher, he added.

Baumgartner hasn’t presented the proposals to the commissioners yet. So far, he’s received three and all of the proposals come from Washington, D.C.-area firms.

Neither Eagle nor Gypsum are considering paying for lobbyists, Baumgartner said.

Powell sounded doubtful that lobbying federal officials would work.

“I really don’t know whether we’ll be successful or not; we think it’s worth a try,” he said.

Baumgartner sounded more optimistic.

“I’m not going to speculate, but you don’t do it if you don’t think you are going to be successful,” he said.

In the meantime, county and town leaders are trying to figure out how to pay for road improvements throughout the valley. One idea being batted around is forming a tax district in the county, or in the western part of the county, to pay for those improvements, Powell said.

Remi Velez, a gas attendant at Corky’s, said an airport interchange might actually hurt business in Eagle.

“The busier the better, it makes everything go by,” he said.

Erickson, though, thinks Corky’s would do all right, either way. Most of his business comes from Eagle residents, not tourists who fly into the airport.

Still, he sometimes misses the old days. “I’ve been here long enough when you could go out on Highway 6 here and take a nap, and the next person who came by would be someone you knew,” he said.

Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 748-2936 or tmiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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