Vail streetscape and snowmelt program approved
One of Vail’s oldest traditions – watching folks in ski boots wiping out as they make the long walk along an icy Bridge Street – may soon be a thing of the past.
Next April, Vail will likely go ahead with the first phase of a two-year “streetscape” construction program that will see the installation of automatic snowmelting equipment on most of Vail Village streets, producing dry walkways even in the middle of the heaviest blizzard.
The heated snowmelt system is part of an overall upgrade to Village byways approved Tuesday by Vail Town Council, although its $18.8 million price tag is still subject to budget approval.
Town Councilwoman Diana Donovan, a member of the streetscape planning committee, says that with the Village’s streets set to be torn up next spring for major underground sewer and water main work, the town decided to capitalize on the opportunity and make some major above-ground changes.
“What really won me over was the snowmelt system,” Donovan said. “Now we won’t have snowplows scratching up the streets, leaving big piles of dirty snow or going “beep-beep-beep’ all night and waking up the tourists.”
Donovan says the system, which will run the length of Bridge Street and Gore Creek Drive, plus Wall Street and some sections of Hanson Ranch Road, should make wintertime travel easier and safer for everyone in the Village.
And with absolutely straight, plow-friendly streets no longer a necessity, Donovan said the streetscaping project will produce angled, undulating walkways and landscaping that results in a much different look for much of the Village – including areas that will still be snow-friendly.
“When the snow does fall, there will still be plenty of patches where it can stay and keep clean – so we’ll still have a winter wonderland in the Village,” she said.
Donovan said the project will also include a new water feature – a pond in Founder’s Plaza with a small manmade creek that will flow down to the Childrens’ Fountain. Other design items are still up for discussion – depending on the budget afforded to the project, crews may re-use existing paving stones or even the existing street lights.
Donovan said she’s also prepared for a backlash against the plans, even though the project will bring a considerably updated look to much of the Village.
“Going into this, we thought we might as well put as many nice touches as we can afford. And the money is available, part of this entire renaissance of Vail project,” she said. “What gets me so irked is when the business community practically has a cow when we actually go ahead with something like this – I mean, what the hell do you want us to do? Everyone was invited to the table to discuss the ideas.”
The snowmelt system was one of the town renovation projects that would have been funded by a proposed property tax increase that voters rejected last November.
Greg Hall, Vail’s director of public works, said he expects the project will turn the Village into a construction zone for much of next spring’s offseason.
“There’s going to be a lot of disruption and you’ll be hearing equipment for quite a while,” Hall said. “We intend to start the day after ski season and be out by July 4, although some businesses may have to work around that. You probably won’t see the finished project totally completed until fall.”
Hall said the Bridge Street section of the snowmelt system may have to wait until 2005, given the length of the project and the problems of access to businesses.
The snow-melting system will be fed by a central heating plant located in the Vail parking garage, with pipes leading out to Village streets. Hall said the system will cover most of the Village’s public streets but may not stretch onto all private walkways.
Councilman Bill Jewitt, the sole vote against the project during Tuesday’s vote, said he felt the snowmelt system was an unnecessary expense.
“About half of the people I talked to when we were thinking about the streetscape plan said it would be nice not to slip while you’re walking, but it just wouldn’t be Vail without snow on the ground,” he said.
“It all sounded like a good idea up front. We just never said what we could afford it, and now it’s turned into a major project that will prevent us from doing other capital projects for three to five years. The money is there if you’re willing to do nothing else – I’m just not up for committing everything at our one shot to improve the town.”
Jewitt said the preliminary budget for the project includes $13.5 million from the town’s planning budget, $3.1 million from private developers, $1 million from Vail Resorts and a $1.3 million contribution from the utility and water district.
Work on the final design of the project will get underway later this month.