Taming the "half-diamond’
Traffic is coming with or without the half-diamond – an interchange planned for the Interstate 70 overpass at U.S. Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail – traffic engineers say. And residents – most of whom don’t want to see the interchange built this summer – see a chance in the $6 million project to make the main highway through their neighborhood safer to cross for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“We’re still not happy about the interchange,” says Ralph Dockery, president of the Eagle-Vail Property Owners’ Association. “Right now we want to do what we can to make the best of it because it looks like it’s inevitable.”
The majority of homes in Eagle-Vail are on the south side of Highway 6, but many residents may be lured across the road to the Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and smaller shops now being built on the north side at the Village at Avon complex. A smaller batch of Eagle-Vail residents who live on and around Riverside Court on the north side of Highway 6 want to cross the road the other direction to get to Eagle-Vail’s golf course, tennis courts, pool and parks.
Eagle County Engineer Helen Migchelbrink says the half-diamond project already includes traffic lights and crosswalks on Highway 6 that should put some fears to rest in Eagle-Vail. Those safety projects, which include traffic lights at Stone Creek Drive and the off-ramp from the westbound lanes into Eagle-Vail, were explained to community leaders at a meeting Monday, she says.
“A lot of their concerns are already part of the project,” Migchelbrink says. “We’re going to continue to work collaboratively with all the communities. I’m pleased people are in such a progress-oriented mood and that they really want to make it better.”
County trails planners will meet soon, she says, to discuss how quickly bike and pedestrian trails can be paved on both sides of Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail.
“We’re trying to come up with pedestrian access, especially to the new Nottingham Ranch Bridge,” she says. “We’re going to look at various options – what it would cost and the feasibility of putting in segments of trail to accommodate pedestrians.”
The developer of the Village at Avon is rebuilding and raising the Nottingham Ranch Road bridge, which will lead to a major four-land boulevard connecting Highway 6 and a “full-diamond” I-70 interchange as it passes by Wal-Mart, The Home Depot.
A roundabout, meanwhile, will be installed on Highway 6 to replace the Nottingham Ranch Road intersection.
“A lot of kids and adults from Eagle-Vail will be drawn to the village and they need a way to get over there safely on foot and on bicycle,” Dockery said.
The interchange is called a “half-diamond” because it will only have an eastbound on-ramp toward Dowd Junction and Vail and a westbound off-ramp. That means a driver could only get on the interchange at Eagle-Vail and head east.
“No matter what we do, the traffic is coming,” says Keith Powers, resident engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “CDOT’s position is that the half-diamond is going to help the local situation.”
After hearing from residents at the meeting, CDOT is checking what additional safety improvements it can afford, Powers said.
“Some of the stuff was within our capability of doing and some of it is within the long range,” Powers says. “We’re adding some crosswalks to help out when people want to get across the street.”
A north-south crosswalk will be paved where the westbound off-ramp meets Highway 6. A traffic light has been planned there, too, to help people cross back and forth from east to west, Powers says.
The bus-shelter on the eastbound lane just east of Eagle-Vail Road may be moved to lengthen sidewalks, Powers says.
CDOT also will wants the contractor that builds the half-diamond not to start using heavy equipment early in the morning and to take steps to reduce the amount of dust kicked up into the air.
Dockery says residents living on Eagle Road alongside the interstate and where the eastbound on-ramp will be paved are worried about a surge in noise.
“I don’t know if this will ever be resolved. Right now they’re just putting in jersey barriers,” Dockery says. “There’s not plans for a wall because CDOT says it’s not justified. So right now those people are pretty much out of luck. I feel sorry for people that live there.”
Powers, however, says projections indicate the noise from the on-ramp won’t exceed acceptable levels. If it does, CDOT will look at stifling the noise, he says.
Residents would also like the 45 mph speed limit on Eagle-Vail’s stretch of Highway 6 lowered, Dockery says.
“We’re really worried about pedestrians getting across the highway at the roundabout,” Dockery says. “We’re going to have three lights and one roundabout between the interchange and the roundabout. We’re hoping, and they assure us, that that’s going to lower speed limits because of the gauntlet drivers will run there.”
The roundabouts and traffic lights should force motorists to drive slower, adds Migchelbrink.
“Once all these various lights and roundabouts are in, we’ll do a speed study to determine whether or not they lower speed limits,” she says.
Another concession CDOT made last summer to deflect a lawsuit by the Eagle-Vail Metro District was to begin a study of Highway 6 from Dowd Junction to Squaw Creek Road, on the western fringe of Edwards. The study, which is being done in partnership with Eagle County, is meant to make Highway 6 a safer, less-congested road for drivers, bikers and pedestrians.
“I’m encouraging everyone to get involved in that study,” Powers says. “Folks need to get involved in that as far what they want to see on Highway 6.”
Residents have opposed construction of the half-diamond for the past two years. The Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District threatened to sue CDOT last year but dropped the suit when the agency agreed to repave Highway 6 and install traffic lights. The issue climaxed last week when the three-member Eagle County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to endorse the half-diamond after a public hearing in which dozens of residents blasted the half-diamond.
Dockery says endorsement should come with support from the two commissioners – Michael Gallagher and Arn Menconi – who voted not to block the interchange from being built.
“That’s a given,” Menconi says, adding that he voted in favor of the half-diamond, in part, because CDOT and the metro district – along with Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs – devised the plan for the traffic lights and other safety improvements last summer.
“The safety issue was something that was worked on extensively last fall with Jack Taylor and the Metro District and that’s how other funds came in with regards to safety issues,” Menconi says. “That was a reason for approving it, knowing that Jack Taylor had addressed safety issues.”
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