Obama won’t build Eagle County airport exit | VailDaily.com

Obama won’t build Eagle County airport exit

Katie Drucker
Eagle County, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyThis is one vision for a future Interstate 70 interchange closer to the Eagle County airport.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Like many Eagle County, Colorado residents who live downvalley and make a daily commute upvalley, Joe Schwan thinks an interchange between the towns of Eagle and Gypsum would help ease rush hour traffic.

But when he looks at the much-discussed Interstate 70 airport interchange project, Schwan believes the air traffic not road traffic will mandate the construction.

“That airport is just going to get busier and busier,” said Schwan. “That interchange is advantageous because it will get people where they are going quicker and safer.”

That said, the Gypsum resident readily recognizes the project is a pricey proposition. “This is a big dollar project and it depends on getting money from the federal guys for it. Maybe it can get some of the Obama stimulus money,” said Schwan.

That’s exactly the thought several local officials have expressed. But for several reasons, federal transportation stimulus money isn’t likely to drive Eagle County’s I-70 airport interchange project.

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The nearly $150 billion of the $800 billion economic stimulus package proposed for infrastructure projects is not as much money as many people had wished. The list of disappointed entities includes the town of Gypsum, Eagle County and the Colorado Department of Transportation. All three had hoped to fund the airport interchange ” a project tabled in the past due to its about $80 million price tag ” with money from the stimulus package.

The project would provide a direct connection between Interstate 70 and the Eagle County Regional Airport via a new interchange proposed at mile post 143. The interchange would connect to a bridge that would span the Eagle River, the Union Pacific Railroad and Highway 6, ending at Cooley Mesa Road near Costco.

The interchange would alleviate increasing traffic on the two-lane Highway 6 and in the towns of Eagle and Gypsum.

“It would be good to put traffic on this road rather than through Eagle or Gypsum,” said Jeff Shroll, Gypsum town manager.

The interchange would also provide a quicker way to get tourists from the airport to resort destinations ” Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen and Snowmass.

“From the Eagle County position, we fully support the project due to projected growth of the county and the demands of the airport,” said Eva Wilson, Eagle County engineer.

The town of Eagle also thinks an interchange is necessary between Eagle and Gypsum, but believes the current design is not financially realistic, noted Willy Powell, Eagle town manager.

In the past two weeks, the town of Gypsum and Eagle County agreed to pay an additional $12,500 each to expedite the completion of the final design by June 1″ making it shovel-ready and thus attractive for stimulus money.

“There are a lot of people who want the money. But a lot of them have no plans,” said Shroll.

Even though the project will now be ready to turn dirt by June 1, funding isn’t likely. Peter Kozinski, Colorado Department of Transportation project manager, says the chances the stimulus bill will fund this project are pretty low.

It is anticipated that, with the stimulus package, the state of Colorado will receive roughly $300 million for transportation projects. That money will be divided between six regions. Eagle County’s region” from the top of Vail Pass to Utah and from Wyoming to Telluride, would likely receive $30 million, said Kozinski .

“If the entire region is only going to receive $30 million and this one project is estimated to cost $80 million it wouldn’t even build one-third of it,” said Kozinski.

Kozinski also thinks funding is not likely because this project would only generate around 50 jobs. “The object of the stimulus package is to put as many people to work as possible,” said Kozinski.

If not funded through stimulus money, the project will continue to stay in “limbo land,” said Shroll. That is where it has resided for decades, and some local officials believe its time to re-examine the entire project.

“The town of Eagle believes there is a low probability that the airport interchange would be constructed, with a budget of $80 million, and that price is going to increase as time goes on,” said Powell. “If that interchange is not constructed in the next couple of years, we need to look to Plan B.”

With that said, Powell noted there is currently is no identified Plan B ” that’s something that would have to be studied. A project that doesn’t include such long bridges would be cheaper and more feasible, he said.

“We do believe an interchange between Eagle and Gypsum is entirely necessary,” said Powell.

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