Vail pass to be smoother next summer |

Vail pass to be smoother next summer

Matt Zalaznick

Some say the pavement on Interstate 70 over Vail Pass is abysmal, while other drivers don’t seem to notice any bumps at all. But next spring, the Colorado Department of Transportation will repave 10 miles of the freeway from East Vail up to the summit.

But the paving will come a few years too late for some folks in the valley who frequently drive over the pass.

“It’s not going to be a fun trip this winter,” says Robert Milfeld, who owns RJ Limousines. “Vail Pass needs paving more than any other stretch of interstate between here and C-470.”

C-470, on the outskirts Denver, runs through Golden and Morrison.

Assistant County Administrator George Roussos says CDOT recently informed the Eagle County government of the repaving project.

“If you go to Denver, you can see how bad the road on Vail Pass is,” Roussos says.

CDOT engineer Ina Zisman says the agency will remove the top two inches of asphalt and cover the freeway with a fresh 2 inches of pavement.

“Right now, it’s wearing out,” Zisman says. “We intend for this overlay to improve road conditions for the next seven to eight years, but it’s not a total reconstruction.”

Depending on the weather, the repaving should start in May and could last until mid-October. Any money leftover from the project will go toward upkeep on I-70, Zisman says.

“Money allowing, we may do some drainage and erosion improvements, like paving ditches and cleaning up sand,” she says. “At this point, we don’t know if we have money for that.”

A recent study found that the agency would have to spend $20 million to keep road traction sand from leaking into Vail Pass lakes and creeks.

A few years ago, both CDOT engineers and Vail Valley environmentalists realized the sand – used to melt ice and keep the pass open in heavy snows –was leaking down the hillsides from I-70 and clogging Black Gore Creek, threatening fish, insects and plant life.

Black Gore Creek flows down the pass into Gore Creek, which flows through Vail and meets the Eagle River at Dowd Junction.

CDOT, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners and the Eagle River Watershed Council, a local environmental group, have recently begun looking for funding for the $20 million cleanup.

CDOT, the Watershed Council and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars paving drainage areas so the sand can be cleaned up more easily.

Lyn Morgan, director of the Eagle County Ambulance District, says his drivers, who often transport patients to Denver, haven’t complained. But, he adds, a smoother road is always better.

“I don’t see a problem,” Morgan says. “But when it gets rougher, people get bounced around in the back of the ambulance and we have to drive more slowly. We’re always happy to see it get paved.”

Potholes, once they start, are a vicious circle, says Milfeld, who previously owned an asphalt company. Water pours into the potholes, then freezes, exacerbating cracks in the pavement and undermining the roadway, he says.

“It’s going to be a nightmare in March when the freeze-thaw cycle starts up,” Milfeld says. “It’s in terrible shape right now.”

CDOT is spending another $6 million about 10 miles west in Eagle-Vail, where the agency is building a “half-diamond” interchange. Construction started several weeks ago where I-70 passes over U.S. Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail.

Most drivers have noticed the occasional traffic back-ups. Milfeld says CDOT should have spent that money on Vail Pass.

“Why didn’t somebody up above in the powers that be in this valley tell CDOT that nobody really wants this in Eagle-Vail and to spend the money someplace it was really needed, like Vail Pass,” Milfeld says.

“It’s not going to hold up very well this winter,” he adds. “They’re going to hear about it from a lot of people.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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