I-70 noise wall meets early opposition

By the numbers

$29 million: Current cost estimate for an Interstate 70 underpass in Vail.

$8.4 million: Town of Vail share of that cost.

$5.2 million: Estimated cost of a 3,400-foot transparent noise wall.

$20,000: Estimated cost for one cleaning.

This story has been corrected — the original version had the wrong year for Interstate 70’s completion over Vail Pass.

VAIL — Interstate 70 has been a mixed blessing for Vail. It provides easy access for visitors, and an easy trip to Denver for local residents. But the highway splits Vail, and the noise from the highway can be oppressive at times.

Vail residents have looked for ways to ease those negative effects since what seems like moments after I-70 over Vail Pass was completed in 1978.

“We move this information to the community so they can give you an idea of whether they like this solution or not.”
Jim Lamont
Director of the Vail Homeowners Association

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Throughout the decades, residents have tried to ease the noise by planting trees and building earthen berms. More fanciful ideas include burying in the interstate, paying for the project with the sale of the very expensive real estate created atop the highway.

Now, a plan for an underpass beneath the interstate between the main and west Vail interchanges may come with its own noise-reduction project.

The required environmental studies for the underpass project include a requirement for a survey of nearby residents — benefiting receptors in bureaucrat-speak. That survey will serve as a binding vote. If a majority of residents want a noise wall, then the project will have to include a 14-foot-tall 3,400-foot long noise wall between westbound I-70 and North Frontage Road.

Sentiment from a handful of residents at Tuesday’s Vail Town Council meeting seems to be against the wall.

“It would be a horrible eyesore,” said Joanie Kulschbach, a resident of the Simba Run condominiums. “I don’t perceive it as a benefit.”

Kulschbach’s husband, Aaron Radzinak, told council members that the difference in sound levels doesn’t seem to be significant.

“It’s the difference between a big truck and a small truck,” Radzinak said.

After hearing the difference between existing noise levels and the 5-decibel reduction a wall could bring, Simba Run resident Graham Lythgoe said the noise-insulating windows recently installed at Simba Run do a much better job of buffering interstate noise.

Charlie Calcaterra, a member of the Simba Run homeowners association board, said most residents at the complex share those views.

Offering Options

That opposition leads to an obvious question: Why study something residents don’t appear to want?

The short answer is that since a survey is required, town officials have to present a “do you want this?” option to participants. That requires at least some design work.

The least-expensive option is a concrete sound wall similar to the ones used along I-70 at Silverthorne. That option would cost roughly $4.4 million. A transparent sound wall made from acrylic material would add about $800,000 to that price tag.

While residents who spoke Tuesday evening were ambivalent, at best, to the idea, the town of Vail has nearly one-third of the votes in the survey, thanks to the Timber Ridge apartments. Every affected unit gets two votes in the survey, one for the property owner and one for a potential tenant in a rental unit. Since the Timber Ridge units affected by the wall are currently under construction, the town gets both votes for every unit. That’s one-third of the total.

Having the town hold that many votes could potentially swing the election one way or the other. But town officials are already balking at the new, much-higher cost estimate for the underpass project.

Higher Construction Costs

Thanks to a roughly 25 percent rise in construction costs, as well as other increases, a project that once had a cost estimate just less than $21 million is now a $29 million project, and that’s without the sound wall.

The new, higher estimate will boost the town’s share of the project from $6 million to $8.4 million. Beyond that, there’s no guarantee the Colorado Department of Transportation will be able to cover its share of the new, higher price estimate.

The Vail project is one of many across the state coming in with much-higher new cost estimates. Given the finite amount of state money available for those projects, some may not start construction.

Council member Margaret Rogers asked why the town should continue planning the project if the funding is in question.

Town engineer Tom Kassmel replied that having a project designed, even if it isn’t built this time, will enable the town to have what’s essentially a ready to go plan if money is available in the future.

“This has been a priority for at least 25 years,” Kassmel said.

‘Becoming A Boondoggle’

Calcaterra, who has always been leery of the project, particularly its potentially negative effects on the Simba Run and Savoy Villas condos, said it’s time to stop putting money into the project.

“This is becoming a boondoggle,” Calcaterra said.

But Jim Lamont, director of the Vail Homeowners Association, urged both the council and residents to take a broader view of the idea for a noise wall, suggesting that “We move this information to the community so they can give you an idea of whether they like this solution or not.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, or @scottnmiller.

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