River worth the congestion | VailDaily.com

River worth the congestion

Nicole Frey
Preston Utley/Vail DailyMaria Ceres crosses the Eagle River on her way home from work. There are more ways to cross the river on foot than by car.

EAGLE – These days, Kim Nock can seldom take a left turn out of her driveway on Eby Creek Road in Eagle, a road she shares with the on- and off-ramps of Interstate 70. Because the traffic is so heavy during rush hours, Nock is forced to turn right and make her way to the Eagle roundabout where she can then turn around and head back to I-70 so she can take her daughters to school in Avon. The trip of just more than 300 yards can take five to eight minutes, she said. “We see the traffic all the time,” Nock said. “This year, we’ve had heavier traffic than before.”Back when Eagle was a sparsely populated agricultural town, the one bridge over the Eagle River sufficed. Today, the Eby Creek Road bridge connects downtown Eagle to grocery stores, restaurants and other shops on the north side of the river. The bridge also has to support the only Eagle interstate interchange. “All the communities in the county have challenges as it relates to their interchanges,” Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell. “But that we only have one means, traffic is concentrated in one area.”

Nock said the population has exploded since she arrived in Eagle 15 years ago, especially in the last few years. And with the people comes the traffic.”It’s a result of the boomtown growth for Eagle,” Powell said. “Everyone has different opinions about the accelerated growth in the town, but the fact is that it’s uncommon for anyone.”Powell said Eagle’s population grew 18 percent last year and can expect the same rate of growth this year. Most residents in Eagle have lived in the town for just a couple years. “It seems like there are people all over the place,” Nock said. The population in Colorado, as a whole, increased just 1.4 percent in 2005 and is expected to increase another 1.5 percent this year – a far cry from what Eagle has seen. Although the influx of people to Eagle is primarily to blame for the traffic, the Eagle River must also assume some fault. Sure, the river was there before any people were, but building bridges is more costly and complicated than building a road. Without the river cutting through the valley, Eagle might have a few more ways of getting from the south side of town to the north, but Eagle officials and residents said they wouldn’t trade the river for easy access. “The river is a priority the town values,” said Bill Heicher, Eagle’s open space enforcement officer. “It’s a place for recreation, it’s wildlife habitat, it’s good for the environment and the public.”Eagle may only have one main bridge for cars, but it has a few other footbridges for pedestrians and bicycles, which makes it easier to get to the river, Heicher said.

Since the river isn’t going anywhere – not that anyone wants it to – town and county officials are thinking up other ways of relieving congestion in Eagle.

“I hope something happens, because I left the city to leave the traffic behind,” said Gina Smith, a newcomer to Eagle. “Now it seems like the traffic is catching up with me.”The idea of an interchange by the Eagle County Regional Airport has been discussed, but the more than $68 million price tag means it’s not happening anytime soon. And that’s too bad, Eagle residents said, including Nock and Joel Migchelbrink, because every year, thousands of cars crowd up Eagle’s portion of U.S. Highway 6 making their way to the airport.With 570,000 square feet of commercial space set to be under construction in as little as a year, there’s a chance an east Eagle interchange could be built, Powell said – but until that development gets started, there likely won’t be any new access to or from I-70. “Without a doubt, Eagle needs more interchanges,” Powell said. The lack thereof is even causing a little interchange envy.”Vail is lucky enough to have three,” Powell said. Nock suggested constructing more roundabouts in place of stoplights to keep the traffic flowing.

The traffic may be an inconvenience when Nock’s trying to go somewhere during rush hour, but it also has its benefits, she said.”It’s very good for business, so I don’t mind the traffic all that much,” said Nock, who co-owns and runs Eagle River Anglers’ fly shop on Eby Creek Road. “It’s a Catch 22 – more people, more congestion, but also more business.”While Nock inevitably gets stuck in traffic when bringing her girls to school in the morning, she opts to run other errands when traffic is lighter.”We wait a little longer to do things,” she said. “It’s not too bad. Eagle resident of eight years Migchelbrink said he also waits for the traffic to calm down to venture into town. “But it’s still nothing like Denver,” Nock said. “We’re spoiled up here.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or nfrey@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado

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