Vail Pass auxiliary lane planning starts, but there’s no construction money

Traffic makes its way atop of Vail Pass on Saturday, Feb. 24, in Eagle County. Traffic studies on what the future of the pass is west of the summit.
Chris Dillmann | |

VAIL — We all have a wish list, whether or not we have a way to pay for those items. The Colorado Department of Transportation is kind of the same way.

The department has begun a process of determining how to add two new lanes to Interstate 70 on the west side of Vail Pass. The lanes, one eastbound and one westbound, will run from the top of the pass to the East Vail interchange. It will be tricky, expensive work and will require a lot of planning for both the roadway and the environment.

But there’s a problem.

While there’s money in CDOT’s budget for the initial work — about two years of environmental analysis — there’s no money available for design, and there’s really no money available for construction.

Still, the evaluation process has begun, and included a Thursday, Feb. 22, open house at Vail’s Donovan Pavilion. There, CDOT and project officials met and talked to the public.

Support Local Journalism

Project manager John Kronholm said this environmental analysis is needed as part of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that laid out a vision for the I-70 corridor between roughly Golden and Glenwood Springs.

That broad document, which was finished in 2011 after 11 years of work, envisioned the new lanes on Vail Pass.

More than pavement

In addition to the lanes, the analysis will also cover needed operational changes and environmental mitigation.

Vail resident Dick Cleveland has been on citizens committees regarding the project and was Vail’s mayor during part of the broad environmental impact statement process.

Cleveland said that while simply building new lanes is a big job, that’s probably only half of the project.

“Our goal is to improve the environment whenever possible,” Cleveland said.

As residents looked at various posters detailing the geography, the costs of highway delays and other information, they asked plenty of questions.

Some asked whether the project would include noise walls.

Kronholm told East Vail residents Fred and Judy Gold that the project would trigger federal requirements to at least investigate the prospect of including noise walls.

The Simba Run underpass between the main Vail and West Vail interchanges also triggered that evaluation and eventually led to a vote by property owners whether or not to include noise walls with that project. Property owners rejected that idea.

Fred Gold said he’d like to see a noise wall now, adding that he sees the value of providing more room for slow-moving vehicles on the steep grades of Vail Pass.

Raise the gas tax?

Asked the best way to pay for the project, Gold said it’s probably time to raise the state’s fuel tax. That tax hasn’t been raised since 1981. The federal fuel tax was last raised in the early 1990s.

East Vail resident Jim Picard said he’s probably in favor a fuel tax increase, too, acknowledging that he generally opposes most tax increase proposals.

Picard said he was impressed with what he’s seen so far of the planning, as well as the number of people CDOT had on hand to explain the various issues regarding work on that stretch of road.

And, Picard said, one state representative seemed interested when he suggested building median barriers at a consistent height, so night-driving motorists wouldn’t blind each other with their headlights.

Like other residents, Picard said it’s “about time” the state started work on improving the highway on the pass.

Resident Steve Prawdzik said there’s a safety issue on the pass, but wondered if more lanes might bring more people.

“Vail and Summit County don’t have the infrastructure to handle twice the people,” Prawdzik said. “When does full mean full?”

Longtime East Vail resident Lee Moosburger said she’s concerned about the effect new lanes might have on wildlife. But, she added, new lanes could help with pass closures in the winter.

“An extra lane could kind of get (truck traffic) off to the side,” she said.

But first, the state needs to find the money.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, or @scottnmiller.

Support Local Journalism