Too early for Vail’s new underpass to show transit, emergency service benefits
By the numbers
• $30.1 million: Cost of the new Sandstone Underpass in Vail.
• 70,000: Cubic yards of material excavated or moved.
• 25,000: Square feet of stone veneer.
• 1: New bus route — running every 20 minutes, from West Vail to Lionshead and Vail villages.
Source: Town of Vail
VAIL — The winter season to come will tell us a lot about whether Vail’s new underpass will fulfill its promises.
The $30.1 million underpass — to which the town contributed $8.7 million — links Vail’s North and South frontage roads between the Vail Town Center and West Vail interchanges. The idea for the project had been bubbling since the 1980s and was first formally mentioned in a 1993 transportation plan.
Town and state officials have long maintained that the underpass will ease traffic at the interchanges and will make both transit and emergency service responses more efficient.
The transit part of that equation began at 6:20 a.m. Friday, Nov. 17, when a new town bus route linked West Vail with the Lionshead and Vail village parking structures.
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Mike Rose, who runs the town’s bus and parking systems, said the bus — which runs every 20 minutes inbound to the resort villages — will make a couple of stops between Chamonix Lane and the parking structures.
“We’re hoping people who want a shorter trip will use it,” Rose said. “It should take a little less time. … If we can, we’ll fine-tune it over the winter.”
Rose said town officials will evaluate ridership once the ski season ends to see what, if any, advantages the underpass created.
The true value
On the emergency services front, Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak and Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger also said it’s too early to know if the underpass is delivering on its promises.
Novak said the true value of the underpass will come when traffic is backed up at either the Town Center or West Vail roundabouts, or if crews need an alternate route.
But, Novak said, there’s been planning to use that alternate route in the case of concerts, weather or holiday or powder day traffic.
Still, fire crews have made some test runs through the underpass with no trouble.
“It’s awfully soon to tell about the underpass’ value,” Henninger said, adding his department will be putting together data about calls and response times over the next several months.
“At this point, everything’s going to be anecdotal,” Henninger said. “Personally, I’ve enjoyed (the underpass) — it makes it easier to get around.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com or @scottnmiller.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.