Vail Police chief: What I-70 closures mean for the Vail community
Editor’s note: With back-to-back closures of Interstate 70 at Dotsero and Vail Pass this week, Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger reminds us of the protocols that are in place to manage these closures through significant pre-planning and coordination with Vail’s public safety partners:
When I -70 eastbound is closed by the Colorado Department of Transportation, it creates significant issues for the Town of Vail, our residents, guests and cross country travelers on the interstate. For locals, it maybe helpful to understand the actions taken by state and town personnel. The closure is usually at the East Vail exit at mile marker 180. The gate arms are lowered and traffic is diverted onto the Frontage Road. Colorado State Patrol and CDOT normally handle the staffing of such a closure on the interstate in East Vail. Vail Fire or Police will close the gate arms on the on ramp from the street. Vail officers close the interstate at Vail Town Center, mile marker 176, for all passenger vehicles to prevent gridlock in East Vail. Passenger cars are detoured into town, to prevent issues on the Interstate with cars waiting for the road to open, without any services. Commercial vehicles, such as 18 wheelers, are allowed to proceed to the chain station to wait and chain up. At the same time, CDOT requires all commercial vehicles to exit at the Dotsero exit to await the opening of the pass.
In Vail, officers place cones at the West Vail on-ramp to the interstate to prevent locals from getting in the congestion that always occurs on the interstate during a pass closure. They also set up a checkpoint at Ford Park to prevent travelers heading east of Vail to continue to the East Vail neighborhoods, which causes congestion and parking issues, which can impede emergency response. East Vail residents with a bright green hang tag are allowed to proceed without having to talk with an officer, which expedites the checkpoint at Ford Park. The hang tags can be obtained at the Police Front Desk during normal business hours by showing proof of East Vail residence.
Cross country travelers on I-70 who have been stopped by the closure are encourage to park in the parking structures until the pass opens; they are not charged for the time the pass is closed in the structures. If the pass looks like it is going to be closed overnight, the Town Municipal building is used as a shelter for stranded travelers. Locals are encouraged to avoid using town streets during closures, due to the congestion, but if you have to go out it is recommended to use the Frontage Roads and not the interstate. The North Frontage Road is the best route.
All told, it takes a large commitment from CDOT, CSP and town staff to deal with these closures in a safe manner. It may also result in delayed responses during the closures, due to staff being assigned to the issues from I-70. The town staff and Vail Communications Center do not know when the road will open, as it is solely at CDOT discretion and is influence by many factors, such as snow fall, conditions of the road, time to clear roads and crashes. Check COTrip or call 511 for the best and most up to date information.