Safety now the focus for "half-diamond’
Eagle-Vail homeowners, the Colorado Department of Transportation, county officials – and maybe a representative from the town of Avon – are meeting privately today to discuss making U.S. Highway 6 through the neighborhood safer when the interchange is built.
“Somebody tell me how kids are going to get safely across that road,” says Tricia Lucero-Blaikie, a member of the board of directors for the Eagle-Vail Property Owners’ Association. “Who’s going to protect the children? Who’s going to protect the bike riders.”
“How I’m going to get across that interchange is going to be a struggle,” adds Eagle-Vail resident Betsy Foley.
One of the biggest fears Eagle-Vail residents have is that the steep increase in traffic expected in their neighborhood will turn Highway 6 into the equivalent of a wide, raging river without a bridge.
“We went through this a year ago with the metro district and identified some things, and we spent upwards of $1 million in terms of mitigating some concerns then,” says Owen Leonard, CDOT’s regional transportation director.
CDOT predicts traffic on Highway 6 through Eagle-Vail will jump by 35 percent whether or not the half-diamond is built near the Interstate 70 overpass. Last summer, CDOT created wider turning lanes and expanded stretches of Highway 6. The agency also plans to install a traffic light at Stone Creek Drive and another signal where the westbound off-ramp will intersect with Highway 6.
CDOT is also teaming up with Eagle County to study the entire stretch of Highway 6 from Dowd Junction to Squaw Creek Road in Edwards.
CDOT, meanwhile, has begun the search for a contractor to build the interchange and residents want to know if there are any more safety improvements that can be made on Highway 6.
“I’m more than happy to listen to them and see what it is and what it’s going to cost,” says CDOT resident engineer Keith Powers, who will attend Monday’s meeting. “But there is no additional funding available, as far as adding stuff to the project up front.
“We do have some give in the project funding itself for minor items. So we can handle some changes on the fly,” Powers adds.
Furor over the half-diamond, long lingering in Eagle-Vail, exploded like wildfire last week when residents, assisted by Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, launched a last-minute attempt to stop the interchange.
That led to a public hearing before the Eagle County Board of Commissioners last week, where the fate of the half-diamond appeared to be in jeopardy. After traffic engineers apparently convinced them the interchange would be useful, commissioners Michael Gallagher and Arn Menconi wound up endorsing the project.
Stone, who faces reelection in November, remains unconvinced. But now that the interchange is inevitable, he says, the focus should switch to keeping Highway 6 navigable for bikers and pedestrians.
“There’s no sense in crying over spilled milk,” Stone says. “If we’ve got this thing we should try to make it the best possible.”
Complicating traffic issues in Eagle-Vail is the large Village at Avon shopping and residential complex being built on the northern border of the neighborhood. The development is entirely within Avon but the traffic will surely spill over into Eagle-Vail. A roundabout will be built to replace the intersection of Highway 6 and Nottingham Ranch Road.
“All the retail coming in Avon will be a magnet for kids to cross Highway 6. Right now, you’ll have a roundabout and we all know roundabouts are not pedestrian friendly,” Stone says. “I think CDOT is open to coming up with some additional improvements to Highway 6.”
Leonard says the half-diamond won’t ignore bikers and pedestrians.
“As part of the design, we have incorporated pedestrian and bicycle features,” Leonard said. “We’ve addressed it through our pedestrian-bike policy which basically involves putting shoulders on the road that adequate to handle those needs.”
Stone, meanwhile, says he hopes the town of Avon will help out.
“It came out loud and clear that a lot of this traffic is being caused by development in Avon,” Stone says. “They ought to be willing to come to the table and help address these issues.”
Powers says there’s slim chance CDOT would add bike paths or a pedestrian bridge. The improvements made last summer and those planned for this summer should calm residents’ fears, he says.
“Right now, I think we’ve got all the bases covered for them,” Powers says. “I think we’re in pretty good shape as far as what their issues are, but I’m going into the meeting with an open mind.”
Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.