Stepping on the brakes
It appears as though our new town manager is off to a good start. Amid a lot of controversy over highway noise, an attempt has been made to settle it in a way that hopefully will be a win-win situation for all parties.
The use of “jake brakes” was at the center of many heated debates in the Town Council Chambers. While certain members of the council implied that the truckers were irresponsible in their use of these braking systems, the truckers themselves retorted that the brakes are essential to their ability to control their speed over such a long declining grade. Any attempt to understand exactly what is required to control the speed of VERY heavy vehicles over a long distance is difficult, if not impossible, for the layman.
What was clear was that both the president and safety manager of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, representing 120,000 truckers in Colorado, were less than pleased with the threats of ordinances and $1,000 citations for the use of compressed engine breaks. And they were not shy about saying so.
There were many points in what could have loosely be called a discussion, more often looking like a shouting match with the volume coming from behind the table, where things could have easily spiraled out of control.
But thanks to the calm and persistence of our new town manager, a solution, however temporary and subject to review, is currently in place. This allows for all sides to go to their corners and take a breath. And in doing so, the dialogue can proceed with the hope of decreasing the noise from the highway pouring over Vail.
And it is absolutely the right first step to take. There are speed limits in place that by everyone’s acknowledgement have rarely been enforced. That’s the first jumping off point. Enforce the law and see if the noise decreases. If it doesn’t, we’re up against a more difficult battle.
The state highway department is not inclined to lower the speed limit on a road that was specifically designed to move vehicles quickly and efficiently. Additionally, even if they would agree to consider it, a speed assessment would be ordered. If it was found that traffic typically moves through Vail faster than 65 mph, the risk would be that the speed limit could be raised, creating an even more onerous problem.
Further, any attempt to actually legislate the use of the braking system would undoubtedly bring a flurry of lawsuits. In the meantime, life would or could be audibly miserable. There was speculation that during these sometimes contentious discussions, the amount of horn honking increased in retaliation.
So the reality is there’s not a whole lot that can be done with force. The best chance we have is to enforce the laws and work on some peaceful agreement with the CMCA.
But outside of that, we need to start thinking about long-term solutions, whatever that means. At $50 million per mile, the monorail that was being touted by Miller Hudson a few years back, is probably unrealistic. But so are six lanes of highway through town. We’d have to sell earphones with every house. And forget about hearing a concert at the amphitheater!
There’s also the guideway, which is in one of the proposals. This involves creation of high tech bus lanes that run in or above the median. It’s apparently much less costly than the monorail option, but currently has a huge flaw. It proposes stopping in Silverthorne. It would seem that it would effectively cut off any easy flow of traffic to Vail, which could have a crippling effect on our tourist business.
Bearing all of this in mind, however, we can’t lose sight of the real benefits that highway has afforded this community. It is truly a classic case of a love-hate relationship. In the post 9/11 era, when the car became the favored mode of transportation, it has been speculated that I-70 is the reason that this resort economy did not suffer as much as most. You only had to read the horror stories about Aspen over Thanksgiving.
When a variety of problems arose at the Aspen airport, people were frustrated with the optional four-hour drive to Denver as the only alternative with some quoted as saying they would sell their properties. We have the luxury of being able to “get out of Dodge” pretty easily when the need arises.
So it probably falls in to that category of “be careful what you wish for.” And while there are some who pine for the “good old days,” at this point there is no going back, nor would most want to. Those car pools to Denver to buy groceries hold little romantic appeal today.
But I’m way out of my element in posing solutions – yet there are experts. And while I am generally very negatively predisposed to the thought of more consultants, this is definitely a topic that requires professional expertise. Sooner rather than later, I might add. Because if we know nothing else, we know that the population of this valley is going to continue to grow and with that growth comes the American love affair with cars and consequently, more noise.
HALLELUJAH: A new sound system debuted Tuesday in the Town Council Chambers! And it is very difficult to not be heard with this new technology. In fact, a minor cough sounds lie the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
However, some small amount of cooperation is still needed by the user. For example, it still requires that you sit up straight and speak clearly, as all mothers’ mantras demanded. But we are light years ahead of where we were.
I was asked to personally call Flo Steinberg, who has been a persistent critic of the sound system in the room. I thought I’d let her read it here. And of course, no one has hammered on this subject more than moi.
It’s a HUGE improvement and I will be the first to say congratulations. Now if we could only get rid of that robin’s egg blue wall in the background. Look’s like the color of a little kid’s play room. No pun intended.
Do your part: Call them and write them.
To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail email@example.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-search:ferry.
Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.