More projects than money on I-70
VAIL – Go through the Eisenhower Tunnel these days, and you’d be well advised to stick to the left. Especially on the west-bound side, truck-tire chains have chewed ruts into the asphalt on the right that can make driving an unsettling experience at best.A combination of things have conspired to put the mountain sections of Interstate 70 into particularly shabby condition this year. Jeff Kullman, regional director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said heavy snow and better enforcement of the chain law have meant more chained-up trucks and more road damage. But the problems have been building for several years, he acknowledged.”Boy, we’ve got a lot of work to do between Denver and you guys (in the mountains),” he said. The tunnel won’t see any improvement until early fall, though, when Kullman said crews will repave all four lanes with a high-quality asphalt that contains bigger rocks meant to last longer. A stretch of eastbound I-70 from Silverthorne about halfway to the tunnel will also be repaired with what Kullman said is a “thin overlay.” Major repaving of eastbound I-70 from Frisco all the way to the tunnel won’t take place until the summer of 2007, he said.In Eagle County, the only portion of I-70 that will see improvement this summer is a stretch between Wolcott and Edwards, said Ed Fink, regional director for CDOT in western Colorado. Other work going on includes an environmental study related to the construction on Vail Pass of auxiliary – or truck – lanes on both sides of I-70 west of the summit.”It’s all preliminary engineering,” Fink said, adding that construction of the truck lanes likely won’t take place until at least 2008. “It’s going to be very expensive,” he said. “The road widening isn’t too bad, but there are some bridges that will have to be widened.”
Also being studied this summer is a reconfiguration of the interstate through Dowd Junction near Minturn. That’s another expensive project, Fink said, which will see a smoothing of the curves in the road and improvements to the exit and entrance ramps.Planning work will also begin this spring on a proposed wildlife overpass near the Vail Pass summit, a multimillion-dollar pilot project spearheaded by the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project. The overpass, meant for wildlife to cross over the highway safely, would span all lanes of the Interstate. Construction on that project probably won’t be for a few more years, assuming the money to do it at all materializes. Falling shortState Rep. Gary Lindstrom, who represents Eagle and Summit counties, said he’s complained endlessly to CDOT about the state of the interstate through the mountains.”Without being too critical, they’ve just got more projects than money to complete them,” Lindstrom said. With the passage of Referendum C last fall, there was some expectation that more money would be available for road projects. But the companion measure, Referendum D, failed, and with it went the state’s ability to issue bonds to pay for fast-tracking Colorado’s many much-needed highway repairs.Even so, Lindstrom said he’s confused, since the failure of Referendum D should only be affecting timing, not the availability of money.
“Gov. Owens has asked for $80 million up front for transportation projects,” he said. “But the (state Legislature) has balked at that.”Lindstrom also said he thinks the enormous “T-Rex” project in Denver has sucked away many dollars that might have been spent elsewhere all to save what he says is seven minutes off the drive time between downtown Denver and C-470.Bad shapeDick Cleveland, a West Vail resident who commutes to Breckenridge for his job with the District Attorney’s Office, said he thinks Summit County is worse off than Eagle.”It’s really bad,” he said of I-70 between Copper Mountain and the tunnel. “There are whole sections that are due for repaving. But there’s also some part in East Vail a big pothole on a bridge joint that’s really dangerous.”Cleveland, who serves on the ECO Trails board, said another concern is the condition of the fences to keep wildlife off the road in West Vail. “They’re torn to pieces,” he said. “CDOT says they have no money to fix them, so you’ve got animals crossing the road there.”
ECO Trails has another bone to pick with CDOT, Cleveland said, in relation to the shabby condition of the bike path over Vail Pass.”There’s a two-mile section that’s really dangerous, really crumbling,” Cleveland said. “We’re trying to get support to push CDOT to make repairs before someone gets hurt.”The sections in question, he said, are in the area around mile marker 186-188 where the highway comes right to the path; and the bridge across Polk Creek west of the Vail Pass summit.”The path is really in serious trouble,” Cleveland said. “My opinion is that, in another year it will be unusable. It’s a huge loss.”Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado