Vail celebrates opening of new $30.1M underpass to link North, South frontage roads
• The 1993 Vail Transportation Master Plan called for an underpass between the main Vail and West Vail interchanges.
• A total of about 70,000 cubic yards of material had to be excavated or move to lower North Frontage Road.
• The $30.1 million underpass is the most expensive public-works project to date in Vail.
• The project was finished on budget and roughly 30 days ahead of schedule.
Source: Town of Vail
VAIL — Charlie Calcaterra was in a fine mood on Friday, Oct. 13. Four years of talking, negotiating and, sometimes, arguing had paid off.
Calcaterra was among a number of Vail residents, along with state and local officials and others, who celebrated the grand opening of an underpass beneath Interstate 70 that links the town’s North and South frontage roads. As it opened to traffic Friday afternoon, a new name was revealed: the Sandstone Underpass.
Calcaterra represented residents of the adjacent Simba Run condominiums during the design process. With a new frontage road roundabout that comes close to the nearest Simba Run unit, Calcaterra and others lobbied hard for aesthetic and noise-reduction improvements.
“It turned out (to be) beautiful,” Calcaterra said Friday. “It’ll be a benefit to the community and the private (condo) owners here.”
Calcaterra also praised the way town officials worked with residents at the Simba Run and Savoy Villas condos.
Calcaterra mentioned a 2014 Vail Daily column penned by then-Mayor Andy Daly that detailed the benefits of private and public cooperation.
“That was spot-on,” he said.
An expensive project
During his remarks before the ribbon-cutting, Daly mentioned that the underpass was more expensive than originally planned. Much of that was a fast escalation of construction costs across the state in the wake of extensive flooding on the Front Range in September 2013. But part came from the aesthetic improvements requested by the neighbors.
Looking around at the roughly 25,000 square feet of stone veneer around the project, Calcaterra noted that “this was all (supposed to be) concrete when they started.”
Further changes helped blunt the sounds of traffic to the condos on the north side. Another change, an art installation on the roundabout’s south side, will shield a home on the south side of Gore Creek from headlight glare.
Between inflation and project additions, this was an expensive project — about $30.1 million. The Colorado Department of Transportation paid $21.4 million, with the town of Vail paying $8.7 million.
During his time at the microphone, Colorado Department of Transportation’s Dave Eller, transportation commission member, who represents the district that includes Eagle County, said the town-state partnership extended far beyond the people writing checks. Partnerships extended to engineering staffs and others, Eller said.
“This was a challenging project,” Eller said, adding that construction had to work around keeping I-70 open and traffic flowing as smoothly as possible along the frontage roads — although everyone acknowledged that the roughly 18 months of construction did disrupt businesses in the area, as well as just getting around town.
Now that the project is finished, Vail Town Council member Jenn Bruno said she believes it won’t be long until residents see the benefits.
What it does
The reason the underpass has been in the “we could use this” stage since 1993’s Vail Transportation Master Plan is to ease traffic congestion at the Vail’s Town Center and West Vail interchanges. The underpass is also seen as a way to speed response times for emergency services vehicles and, perhaps, create greater flexibility for the town’s transit system.
“We’re really proud of this,” Vail Mayor Dave Chapin said. “I think people will see the convenience it creates.”
Before the ribbon-cutting, Bruno echoed Chapin’s pride in the project.
“I think (the underpass) has met, if not exceeded, our expectations,” Bruno said.
Bruno added that the construction project also held a few surprises for town officials, particularly regarding the number of vehicles that drive into and out of Vail every day.
During the summer of 2016, traffic on South Frontage Road frequently jammed toward the end of the work day. Creating an extra summer-only lane under the interstate at the Town Center interchange helped ease those backups the past two seasons.
The underpass was set to open to traffic Friday afternoon, and some people at the celebration were already thinking of ways to ease their trips around town.
And now, a trip from Lionshead Village to one of the grocery stores in West Vail just got a bit simpler and a little bit faster.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.