Will Vail get an I-70 underpass?
• The Vail Town Council has set aside more than four hours at its Dec. 16 meeting to learn about and discuss the Simba Run underpass. To view the agenda and related information, go to http://www.vailgov.com.
• The town of Vail and Colorado Department of Transportation are also sponsoring an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Grand View room in Lionshead to discuss the underpass project.
VAIL — The law of supply and demand has hit the road construction business in Colorado, possibly jeopardizing a long-needed link between Vail’s north and south frontage roads.
Town officials in 2013 celebrated when the Colorado Department of Transportation announced it would fund 70 percent of the cost of an underpass underneath Interstate 70. The town would fund the remainder of the project’s cost. Town officials have long wanted that frontage road link, saying it would take traffic pressure off the main and west Vail interstate interchanges. That, in turn, would help bus service, police and fire responses, and even a trip to the grocery store from Lionshead or Matterhorn.
The project’s cost was originally estimated at a bit less than $21 million. Then the floods of 2013 hit Colorado’s Front Range. Those floods, as well as a host of already-planned projects around the state, created a huge demand for companies capable of highway construction. That, in turn, led to a spike in prices for materials and manpower.
$2.4 MILLION INCREASE
A memo from Vail town engineer Tom Kassmel states that road-construction costs rose about 25 percent between 2013 and 2014.
That has taken the cost estimate for the project from $20.8 million to $29 million. Assuming that the department of transportation agrees to continuing the 70/30 state/local split on costs, the town’s share of the project would increase to $8.4 million, a $2.4 million increase.
But, Kassmel said, that’s assuming that the state will still fund the Vail project. While construction costs have soared, there’s still a finite amount of money in the fund expected to pay for the job. That fund — called the Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships, or RAMP — is a five-year program.
Department spokeswoman Amy Ford said the program is a way to more quickly spend about $1.5 billion the state already had in the bank on long-planned projects. Once that program is finished, that’s it.
Kassmel said the Colorado Transportation Commission is set to meet in the next several weeks to discuss the problem and decide how to move forward.
“They were getting requests for additional funding from all over the state and decided they needed to get a better handle on it,” Kassmel said.
That creates a real question about whether the Vail project might be delayed or postponed in favor of work elsewhere.
NOISE WALL NEEDED?
State and federal regulations might throw another expensive monkey wrench into the underpass planning project. A required environmental assessment of the underpass project includes a noise survey of the area affected by the project. That survey showed there’s enough current noise, as well as noise generated by the underpass, to require a survey of neighboring property owners.
The survey has led to a requirement for a vote by those affected by the project. That vote, in turn, could trigger a state and federal requirement for a noise wall of about 3,400 feet in length and 14 feet in height.
A noise wall could add further millions to the project’s cost. Kassmel’s report puts the estimated cost for a concrete-panel wall at $4.9 million. A wall made of clear acrylic panels would add another $800,000 to the cost. Assuming another 70/30 state/local split, that could add as much as $2.2 million to the town’s share.
Meanwhile, Ford said state planners are trying to look at ways to possibly trim projects in order to get work done within the finite amount of available money.
Vail Mayor Andy Daly said any project in Vail has to be done to the town’s standards. But, he added, “It also has to make economic sense…. If the cost is significantly higher, it could jeopardize the project.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.