I-70 opens; drivers struggle to get on the road | VailDaily.com

I-70 opens; drivers struggle to get on the road

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyThe Koster family " including Emily Koster, left, her baby Chloe and Zack Koster, 11, center " make the best of sleeping arrangements at Vail Town Hall. The Kosters were trying to get home to Iowa after a family vacation in California when I-70 closed Sunday.

VAIL, Colorado ” John Zerr was waiting for news ” any news ” about when he could head home.

Until then, he had a book to read and a hall to pace at the emergency shelter at Vail Town Hall, where the Town Council Chambers were packed with cots.

Snow and wind had closed Interstate 70 east of Vail for almost 24 hours, leaving Zerr and hundreds of other motorists stranded Sunday night and most of the day Monday.

Zerr, a Colorado Springs resident who was driving back from San Diego, had spent the night on a cot.

“Beats sleeping in a cold car,” Zerr said. “I had a good little sleep.”

On Monday at around 4:30 p.m., Zerr got the news he was waiting for ” the interstate reopened. A mad rush to get on I-70 ensued.

“The traffic is horrendous,” said shelter coordinator Dan Smith of the Vail Valley’s Salvation Army on Monday afternoon shortly after the interstate reopened. “The roundabout’s packed.”

He estimated that it would take motorists about two hours simply to get onto the interstate.

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed the pass Sunday evening and worked for the next day to clear the roads and reduce avalanche danger.

I-70 over Vail Pass is the only eastbound route out of Vail. The interstate is the major east-west artery across the state.

Vail was already packed with skiers this Christmas week, perhaps the busiest week of the year in Vail. Snow fell all day Sunday, with Vail Mountain reporting 10 inches, and snow continued to fall all day Monday.

About 100 people stayed in shelters in Vail Sunday night, with another 50 staying in shelters in Minturn and Eagle.

Other stranded drivers simply waited in their cars, parked along Vail’s frontage roads. Truck drivers waited in their cabs in the chain-up area in East Vail.

Dozens of people remained at Vail’s Town Hall on Monday morning, lounging on cots or milling about, eating the food that was provided.

On Sunday, Zerr tried to get a motel room in Eagle, Edwards or Avon ” but everything was booked. When he got to Vail, a police officer told him to go to the shelter.

“It’s a little bit interesting that an interstate, with today’s technology, would be closed,” he said

Evan Snyder, Gage Snyder and Matt Collins were heading back to Nebraska on Sunday after their ski trip in Steamboat.

They braved whiteout conditions on Highway 131, taking about four hours to get from Steamboat to Vail. So they weren’t surprised when they found out Vail Pass was closed, they said.

They helped set up chairs and cots at the shelters, at Town Hall and at the Vail Interfaith Chapel, and ended up sleeping on the floor at Town Hall.

“Might as well let the kids and the old people have the cots,” Collins said.

They passed the time Monday by playing cards, and by afternoon, it seemed they might spend a second night there.

“What else are you going to do?” Evan Snyder said. “If you can’t drive, you can’t drive. We’ll suck it up.”

Greg Godsil had almost made it home to Arvada with his family on their car trip from Oceanside, Calif., when they reached the closure.

Vail’s Holiday Inn was sold out, and a room at the Marriott was going for a pricey $459. So they went to the Vail Interfaith Chapel shelter.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “Because I usually ski here.”

Without any ski gear ” or winter clothing ” he and his family had to wait in the shelter.

Eric Biewenga of Highlands Ranch was delivering a rental car to Vail from Denver for his job when he realized he wouldn’t be able to go back to Denver. He found some hotel rooms Sunday night, but they cost anywhere from $300 to $1,600.

“It’s not bad,” he said of the chapel shelter. “I wish I had some of the comforts, like a change of clothes.”

At Town Hall Monday morning, Smith said he had to discourage motorists from trying to find alternative ” yet dicey ” routes on secondary roads, such as going over Tennessee and Fremont passes to Summit County, where I-70 was closed, too.

“You’re warm, you’re dry, you’re comfortable, you have information,” Smith said. “Stay where you are.”

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

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