Vail Town Council OKs increased costs for underpass project
VAIL — Bob Armour suffered plenty of slings and arrows getting Vail’s roundabouts built in the 1990s. Tuesday, Vail’s former mayor encouraged his successors to be bold in building a new underpass between the main Vail and West Vail roundabouts.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday approved spending an additional $2.8 million as its share of that proposed underpass, bringing the town’s contribution to the project to nearly $9 million. The vote was 6-1 to approve, with council member Greg Moffet opposed.
As Armour told the council, the underpass — which will link Vail’s North Frontage and South Frontage roads about halfway between the main and West Vail interchanges — has been in the planning stages for over 25 years.
Ever since the idea was proposed, town officials have said a link between the frontage roads would help ease congestion at the interchanges, and it would help make the town’s bus system and emergency services responses more efficient. The underpass would also provide a safer way for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the interstate.
“It was a lot of money then, and it’s a lot of money now,” Armour said, encouraging this council to continue Vail’s tradition of acting boldly.
That first plan to build the underpass required Vail to act alone. This time, the town has a partner — the Colorado Department of Transportation. In 2013, that department announced it would fund roughly 70 percent of the underpass project, using money from a new state fund designed to more quickly build needed projects around the state.
At first, the project’s cost was estimated at about $21 million. The town’s contribution would be about $6 million.
But in December of 2014, new estimates for the project were released, and those numbers were substantially higher — $29 million.
On Tuesday, Vail town engineer Tom Kassmel said the project is now about 90 percent designed, and the current estimate is $30.1 million.
Making up the gap between the original and current estimates, and maintaining the split between state and local money, will require Vail to come up with an additional $2.85 million.
The town has the funds, primarily in the Lionshead Reinvestment Authority’s accounts. That authority uses tax financing from new projects in Lionshead — about $42 million over the life of the funds.
In voting against the new funding, Moffet said he believes that money could be better used elsewhere, particularly if the town decides to put money toward lowering the costs of units to be built at the new Chamonix neighborhood in West Vail.
Carol Calcaterra, a resident of the Simba Run condominiums, agreed that the money for the underpass could be better used elsewhere.
But those voices were in the minority.
Kevin Foley was on the Vail Town Council when the first roundabouts were built. Foley also encouraged the council to move forward with the plan.
“If you don’t fund this, let’s find out how you’ll fund a pedestrian overpass,” Foley said. “This should have been built when the interstate was built. It needs to happen.”
While moving to approve the new funds, council member Dave Chapin agreed that safety is a significant factor in getting the underpass built. He added that in all the discussions about the underpass, few, if any, people had mentioned improving the town’s guest experience.
Noting that guest surveys always mention traffic and congestion as problems with Vail, Chapin said “I don’t see that problem getting better” without the new link.
With the town’s action, the funding ball is now in the state’s court. The Colorado Transportation Commission will meet June 18 in Denver and is expected to decide that day whether or not to make up the remainder of the gap between the original and current estimates.
If the commission votes to approve less money, then the project may be delayed until the additional funds can be found.
Jenn Bruno said she hopes the commission funds the full amount so the underpass can be built to the standards already approved by the town, and she promised to the residents of the Simba Run and Savoy Villas condominiums, who will be most affected by the project.
If the commission fully funds the project, then construction will start in April, with an estimated completion date in December of 2017.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.
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