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Vision of Vail with tunnel

Jim Lamont

The following is the fifth installment of the Vail Village Homeowners Association white paper: “Eliminating I-70, a Grand Vision Plan for Vail.” The full report can be obtained on the association’s Web site at http://www.vailhomeowners.comTunnel Implications: The proposal to remove or bury I-70 should be diligently pursued. The requisite studies should be carried out, so that the community is prepared to evaluate the merits and provide constructive alternatives to any proposal presented to it by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). Furthermore, planning and design studies should be conducted that provide guidance to the community for the prioritization and completion of improvements to the frontage road system. These efforts should anticipate the eventual removal or burying of I-70 through the community. Carrying out a long-range plan in strategic phases allows the community to take advantage of opportunities as they arise by having successive projects build upon each other. Also, it gives the town a better guide in prioritizing its capital expenditures. There may be secondary advantages, as the town would not have to finance the expansion of both the North and South Frontage Roads through their entirety, saving valuable land and financial resources. Completing the central boulevard over the next decade, for example, would free large areas of the existing I-70 right-of-way for development immediately upon the completion of the bypass tunnel, whenever it is built. This strategy could shrink the lag time for developers and financiers to maximize their return on investment. The efficiency of the existing bus mass transit system could also be improved. Bus routes could be shortened and passenger capacities increased. The central boulevard could be upgraded to adapt to advances in automated bus technology. Right-of-way for some advanced form of rapid mass transit could be preserved. The rapid mass transit system should be phased and built in conjunction with new development. The development planning should follow the mixed transit-oriented model used throughout the world.The Zermatt commuter train system can be adapted to Vail using a form of quiet (electric) guideway or rail mass transit. The central boulevard can include width for a surface or buried, single- or double-track guideway that complements the resulting development and interconnects at Dowd Junction with the existing Union Pacific rail line. There would be stations along the route giving access to each major neighborhood and Town Centers. The west portal interchange should be the site for the main mass transit station to access Vail. The mass transit station would be a point of transfer from the Eagle Valley mass transit system that could run between Minturn and the Eagle County Regional Airport. If and when an advanced technology system is build between Denver and Vail, the two systems can be merged. The use of a rail mass-transit system may not be necessary until ridership demands otherwise. The same concept of controlled access can also be accomplished using on-road bus technology. Advancement in guide-by-wire and other advances in computer-guiding technology may allow electric-powered (quiet) buses to run in train configuration (platooning). Transit stations would occur, as with the rail system, at major neighborhoods and town centers. The advantage of the on-road approach is that it could be more economical to construct and operate. The west portal interchange links the bypass tunnel to the present I-70 alignment at Eagle-Vail and gives access back to the existing Dowd Junction interchange, where the junction between the central boulevard and Highway 24 occurs. The west access point to the central boulevard would be located at this junction . The importance of the Eagle County Airport to the future of Vail cannot be overstated. Every effort must be put to expanding service and upgrading facilities for both public and private aircraft. A complete assessment of the airport limitations and opportunities should be included in long-range master planning efforts for Vail. Any limitation on service could adversely affect Vail. Today, I-70 and the frontage roads form an impassible barrier dividing the entire community. This barrier can be removed once the interstate is removed. Neighborhood access roads can then be interconnected with the central boulevard in conjunction with the development. The consolidated roadway system creates the opportunity for each neighborhood to be served by a more efficient and convenient mass transit system. New development built on the abandoned right-of-ways can join together neighborhoods that are now physically divided. The social fabric of the community would be strengthened. New development can be used to balance the “social equity” of the community by creating opportunities for affordable housing and commercial uses needed to improve the community’s economic competitiveness, such as hotels and offices. Sites for new neighborhood and major community amenities would also become available. The option to control access into the community creates opportunities to charge visitors an access fee. Revenues collected from the fee could be used to defray the costs of the tunnel. Emergency situations, such as the blocking of the bypass tunnel, can be readily resolved by rerouting traffic onto the central boulevard. The boulevard can be easily be converted to unrestricted access, the advantage being that speed limits can be set according to community standards, rather than according to state or federal requirements, as they are today. Managing access into the community creates the possibility of generating revenues to defray the cost of operating the tunnel through the charging of access fees or limiting visitor vehicles altogether. It provides the option for the community to emulate the European mountain resort of Zermatt. Visitors must access Zermatt by mass transit, leaving their vehicles in a large parking structure attached to a mass transit terminal in the valley below. Local residents can access the community by private vehicle, providing they have a parking space. Zermatt benefits in several ways because of its unique transportation systems, there is an aura of exclusivity, mystique and cachet created by accessing the community via mass transit. There is a heighten sense of personal security; there is the feeling of safe sanctuary. These factors create economic benefits. As well, there are other less tangible benefits to the community, such as protecting the ancient agrarian culture of local villagers. Many villagers still keep their goatherds in small antique barns tucked in among the chic pensions and condominiums complexes of the resort. In Zermatt, there is not the sense that the community lives in self-imposed isolation, locked away from the outside world behind closed gates. Anyone can access the community. There are analogies for Vail to consider, such as how to preserve its working middle-class (agrarian villagers), in Zermatt and elsewhere in other resort communities in Europe and throughout the world. Creating a bypass for transcontinental truck traffic virtually eliminates the ever-present threat from toxic spills. There have been spills over the years that have temporarily polluted the environment. The “cut & cover” tunnel option would not be able to generate revenues from access fees, as the interstate system prohibits the collection of tolls except on improvements that provide for new capacity, such as HOV (High Occupancy Vehicles) lanes. As well, the degree of security protection is lessened because there is vulnerability to catastrophic accidents or terrorism. The long-range planning for Vail and its immediate region should make the assumption that infrastructure improvement should have the capability of Vail co-hosting the Winter Olympics. Should this eventuality ever occur, there may be financial and other resources available that would allow the building of some facilities to be advanced so that their availability would coincide with the hosting of these events. The timing of critical projects would therefore be subject to adjustment. Next Steps: The density of development required on the abandoned right-of-way should be considerable. It may double the current size of the community. However, if other sources of revenue become available, then density could be reduced. The community must come to terms with the prospect of having to embrace considerable growth to save itself. The study of the amount of new development necessary to finance the plan is central to the pursuit of the proposition. Beyond the development options, additional research is necessary to determine the effect upon the community’s economy during and after completion of the project. Study will be required to determine if controlled access can bring additional economic benefit. The initial overall feasibility should address the risks of either pursuing the proposition or not from the point of view of financial and technical considerations, as well as from the perspective of community sustainability and values. Pursuing the result of these considerations is paramount to more thoroughly understanding all the interrelated issues of such a complex endeavor. State and federal officials, particularly their finance committees, will need ample evidence that the project has merit before they will be willing to invest their support and time in the necessary technical and engineering investigation to substantiate that the project should, in fact, be built. Considerable lobbying both at the state and national capital will be required, as in all likelihood if legislative action will become necessary.If it is decided, after continued study, the project is feasible and right for the community of Vail, it will take unwavering commitment, unanimous support and steadfast leadership to see it through to the end. Jim Lamont, executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association, was the town of Vail’s first director of community development (1972-77). He is a professional town planner and has been involved in most aspects of Vail’s development during his career.


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