Vail underpass project set to begin April 4
How much dirt?
The Vail underpass project will require lowering the frontage roads and digging out the space underneath Interstate 70 for two new bridges.
• That’s about 70,000 cubic yards of dirt.
• The Glenwood Canyon project moved about 250,000 yards of dirt out of, then back into, the canyon.
• A cubic yard will fill the bed of a standard half-ton pickup.
• That’s a lot of pickup loads of dirt.
VAIL — Interstate 70 makes it easy to get to Vail, but it also splits the community and complicates travel between the north and south side of town. Help is on the way, starting in April.
On April 4, not quite a week before Vail Mountain closes, work will start on one of the town’s biggest public works projects, a $30 million underpass beneath the interstate that will link the town’s North And South Frontage roads.
The underpass has for decades been on the wish list of both the town and the Colorado Department of Transportation. The problem has been funding. The state in 2013 announced a way to fund transportation projects around the state. The Vail underpass made the list, due in large part to the town’s willingness to contribute about 30 percent of the cost. The town’s share remained constant even after the estimated price ballooned from about $21 million to roughly $30 million
While the underpass project will take about 20 months to complete — from April of this year until about December of 2017 — the schedule is still ambitious. Two bridges and two roundabouts will be built, roughly 70,000 cubic yards of material will be excavated and retaining walls built.
Matt Figgs, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s engineer on the project, acknowledged that the construction schedule is a relatively quick one, but said the department is taking advantage of several “opportunities” to get the work done.
The detour constructed in October will get all traffic away from the bridge construction, Figgs said. That will allow quicker work. The construction plan also calls for larger-than-normal work crews, which will work six days a week.
That’s going to complicate traffic in Vail, of course.
Town engineer Tom Kassmel recently provided the Vail Town Council with an update on just what will happen and when.
• The work that begins will affect the interstate for about 90 days, with either the westbound or eastbound lanes being switched to two-way traffic as the bridges are built.
• Starting in July, work will start on lowering the North And South Frontage roads. Those roads will be switched to one-way traffic through the construction zones during that work.
The South Frontage Road will carry eastbound traffic. Westbound traffic will run on the north side. Kassmel said the roads will carry two-way traffic on either side of the construction zones. But someone headed from, say, Lionshead Village to West Vail will need to head east to the main Vail interchange to take the North Frontage Road all the way to west Vail.
• During the 2016-17 ski season, traffic will return to normal on the frontage roads, with the construction zone re-activated in April of 2017 for more excavation, construction and so on.
During the entire project, the town bike path on the north side of the interstate will remain open, with a slight detour around the construction. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the south side will be routed down to the Gore Valley Trail.
Vail Town Council member Dick Cleveland wondered if the bridge construction schedule might be too aggressive, even without excavation.
“We’re going to have to pray for no snow in April,” Cleveland said.
No matter the weather, Figgs said residents and travelers will have plenty of information available. The transportation department has hired a public information agency, and Kassmel said town officials plan to work “intimately” with that group.
Figgs said a project-specific website will roll out in the next several weeks, as will as project-status phone number. There will also be at least two more public open houses before construction starts.
While the project will complicate Vail’s traffic for some time, council member Kim Langmaid expressed a view shared by many residents.
“This will be great when it’s done,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.