Dobbs: Can we turn down the noise in East Vail?
Everyone knows that Interstate 70 runs right down the spine of the Vail Valley. Everyone knows that it’s noisy. Everyone also knows, at least until the unlikely day when the highway goes underground, that the noise is a necessary evil.
But for those of us in East Vail— the gateway to the valley —it’s even noisier. Or to state it plainly, when you’re trying to sleep, even more evil. That’s because as westbound semis descend from Vail Pass, we don’t just hear the din of passing traffic. We hear the roar of what one writer describes as a lawn mower powering up, or a firing gun, or a jackhammer.
Why? Because drivers don’t just use their air brakes as they descend, they use what are known as “jake brakes.” They turn the engine into an air compressor to help slow the truck.
The impact is oppressive. Jake brakes are not a necessary tool for the truckers. They are not a necessary evil.
And the Colorado Department of Transportation could mitigate it. But it won’t.
Because of federal funding for a lane project just uphill from the East Vail exit, CDOT is obliged to comply with federal noise regulations. That’s why the state agency did a noise analysis. They purported to create a “model of the existing conditions” on I-70 coming down from the Pass, which they said “is able to predict the level of noise at the residences” of East Vail.
Their prediction? “No impacts.”
It’s as if CDOT is channeling Groucho Marx’s immortal question, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes,” although in this case, it’s our lyin’ ears. I don’t care what CDOT’s “model” shows. The trucks, especially at night, can be unbearably noisy. The environmental impact on East Vail is real.
A neighbor of mine wrote to CDOT about it, and he got this response from the “Consultant Public Involvement Coordinator” (whatever that means) for the engineering firm involved in the project: “As you can imagine, many others shared this same concern with the project team.”
Encouraging. But the letter went on to say that after reviewing all the public comments, the agency’s report “produced a Finding of No Significant Impact.”
Maybe they’ve never tried to sleep here in East Vail. What’s more, in a specific environmental impact statement, they cite “permanent noise impact,” which sounds like a sneaky way of saying, “Permanent noise impact, no mitigation.”
They could do something, though, if they were willing to believe our lyin’ ears. They could establish a noise abatement zone for a mile-and-a-half up the road from the exit, where the interstate first opens up to the valley. At least between, say, 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. They could advise truckers’ organizations of the rule. They could erect noticeable signs saying jake brakes are banned until the bottom of the hill. They could establish and enforce fines.
Everyone knows that an interstate highway is noisy. But do we really have to treat the noise as a necessary evil without even trying to dampen it?
Greg Dobbs is a speaker, author, and veteran television journalist who is a part-time resident of East Vail.