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The bane of Vail’s future

Jim Lamont

The following is the second installment of the Vail Village Homeowners Association white paper “Eliminating I-70, a Grand Vision Plan for Vail.” The full report can be obtained on the association’s Web site http://www.vailhomeowners.comThe interstate highway is Vail’s most potent source of environmental deterioration. Its continued presence threatens to undermine the long-term potential of the entire community. Currently, the highway is the primary cause of chronic noise, visual, and water pollution. It dominates the landscape and cleaves the community in half. The desirability of being outdoors in Vail will deteriorate, by 2025 daily traffic is expected to almost double and noise levels will increase by 50 percent or more.The initial stage of the redevelopment of Vail has demonstrated that master planning can be used to overcome long-standing impediments to improving the quality-of-life and destination resort experience in Vail Village and Lionshead (resort town center). Impediments like the noise, unsightliness, and damage to streetscape improvements from on-street truck loading and deliveries. Likewise, Vail must have a long-term strategy and plan to overcome the deterioration that I-70 now threatens. To do nothing will resign the community to a steady erosion of its environment assets, its lifestyle, quality-of-life and ultimately property values, which could lead to its financial downfall. Proximity was at one time the unequivocal value the interstate highway brought to the community, but no longer. The interstate showcased the community in its early years community to millions of passing motorists. It gave ease of access to Front Range skiers and part-time homeowners. Now Vail is well known and its natural environment has become more important than its exposure to uninformed tourists. Motorist increasing must compete each other and escalating truck traffic along the length of I-70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs. The town of Vail has recently completed a 2-year-long evaluation of remedies to the noise pollution generated by interstate highway traffic. While there are some approaches that could reduce noise levels, the impact over the long term will be negligible. Even then, these minimal short-term effects will only apply to limited areas of certain neighborhoods. None of the studied options over the long-term will reduce or eliminate noise pollution from any particular neighborhood or the community in its entirety. The solutions offered in the PEIS by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) offer transportation solutions through Vail, but do not necessarily address a long-term vision for the community of Vail. There is no evidence that CDOT will unilaterally bring forward any far-reaching rapid mass transit solutions that are compatible with the long-term interest of the community until Vail itself defines and advocates its interest. Those interests being the preservation and enhancement of the community’s fabric, its way of life, natural environment and economic well-being. The potential threat from I-70 is escalating and impending. A planning effort by the Colorado Department of Highway (CDOT) concludes that the Interstate 70, west from Denver to a point well beyond Vail, must be expanded to accommodate six travel lanes and an additional two lanes for a possible rapid mass transit system. The department is taking its first steps to implement the planned expansion. Construction of the $4 billion in programmed improvements is projected to occur over the next twenty years. The current CDOT programmatic environmental impact statement, or PEIS, details and expanding the Interstate to six lanes from the West Vail Interchange to the Eagle-Vail Interchange with the possible option of a double bore six-lane tunnel that will bypass landslide hazards at Dowd Junction. The expansion to six-lanes between the East and West Vail interchanges, while currently not under consideration, cannot be dismissed from happening beyond the planning window of 2025.Vail’s frontage roads running parallel on either side of the interstate are inadequate. As redevelopment occurs, they are being widened to accommodate additional through and turn lanes, on-street overflow parking, sidewalks, bike paths and landscaping. Conceivably, if in the far future expansion plans are carried through, in some areas between the Main and West Vail interchanges, there could be 18 lanes of traffic where there are now eight to 10. The town of Vail has had some success in reducing noise pollution by increased enforcement of speed limits. State transportation authorities, because of the requirement of their evaluation criteria, believe they cannot lower the Interstate speed limit through Vail, even though the Town Council has exerted considerable political effort towards this objective. The building of barriers, such as berms and European-style sound barrier walls, will only improve conditions in a few isolated locations. As the result of a neighborhood property owner association and town of Vail effort, which is supported by the Homeowners Association, a berm is being built to shield the Bald Mountain Road neighborhood in East Vail, reducing highway noise. However, throughout the community there are limited locations where berms of adequate height can be built. Residential properties located along the steeper slopes of the valley will receive minimal benefit from berms or sound walls. State transportation authorities have eliminated funding for extensive sound walls through the community. Even to have limited effect, studies report the sound walls would have to be nearly 20 feet high. Many believe that these “partial” solutions, particularly sound walls, are unacceptable to the community. As interstate traffic volume grows over the coming decades the din is expected to increase. Taller buildings along the interstate partially shield areas of the resort town center. However, residential units, which front the interstate in these buildings and elsewhere throughout the community, will have diminished desirability in comparison with those that are protected from highway noise. Increasingly, expansion of the frontage roads will come into conflict with proposals for the expansion of the interstate, further dividing the community physically. It is not an uncommon sight to see employees running across the interstate from their housing on one side to their job or recreational activity on the other. Jim Lamont, executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association, was the town of Vail’s first director of community development (1972-77). He is a professional town planner and has been involved in most aspects of Vail’s development during his career. Vail, Colorado


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