Super-powered vacuum headed to Vail |

Super-powered vacuum headed to Vail

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyThe state's GapVax truck has a super-powerful vacuum that will suck up traction sand from Interstate 70 to prevent from spilling into nearby streams and polluting the water.

VAIL ” A rolling behemoth of a shop-vac could be the thing that saves Black Gore Creek, a stream along I-70 polluted with traction sand.

They call it the GapVax. It’s a bright orange monster truck that the Colorado Department of Transportation bought to clean up tons of sand spread on slippery highways during the winter. The sand seeps into Black Gore Creek below the highway, smothers insects, harms fish and eventually settles in Gore Creek, the trout stream that flows through Vail.

The GapVax will make sand pickup much easier for the department of transportation, which has been criticized for its cleanup efforts. The Eagle River Watershed Council, an environmental watchdog group, has often said the department of transportation ” CDOT ” has been slow to clean out sediment basins along I-70.

“We’re glad to see CDOT take more active roles in cleaning traction sand,” said Maria Pastore, acting director of the Eagle River Watershed council. “This should have a huge impact and let them pick up things they haven’t been able to pick up in the past.”

The impressive thing for many people is the GapVax’s power. It has the ability to lift 8-inch rocks 60 feet vertically, which shows it should be more than able to handle the dense, debris-filled muck that can make cleanup so difficult.

“It just has more vacuum power than anything else we have, which will be a valuable tool for cleaning up the sand along the shoulders, in and around guardrails and in our sediment ponds along the highways,” said Ken Wissel, CDOT’s deputy maintenance superintendent for the region.

The vacuum’s power is particularly important to the watershed council, which funded an unsuccessful attempt to suck sand out of Black Gore Creek in 2005. Basically, the equipment being used was underpowered and couldn’t handle the sticks and debris in the river.

“This should be able to get mass amounts of traction sand in one swoop,” Pastore said.

The GapVax is the first vacuum truck purchased by CDOT exclusively for sand clean-up. It cost more than $400,000.

While Black Gore Creek will benefit from the truck, CDOT has to share the wealth. The GapVax will also be used on Straight Creek west of the Eisenhower Tunnel and near Berthoud Pass.

“As long as we can get enough time on Vail Pass, it should help a lot,” said Anne Esson, a long time member of the Black Gore Creek steering committee, a part of the watershed council.

Cleanup work with the GapVax should begin in May.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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