Vail Daily column: Clock is ticking on underpass project
Editor’s note: The following is Part 1 of a two-part report from the Vail Homeowners Association. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. Visit http://www.vailhomeowners.com for he electronic version with links to supporting documents.
The Simba Run underpass proposal, largely financed by the Colorado Department of Transportation, raises what could be two critical issues for Vail. First, to what extent will forward-looking projects be implemented to help manage Vail traffic, and second, whether Vail will realize any workable solutions to I-70 noise pollution. The design could include Vail’s first soundwall along the length of the project.
The purpose of the Simba Run underpass is to reduce the amount of local traffic using the main and West Vail roundabouts. According to traffic engineers, this will delay by many years the need to pay for an expanding of those two intersections.
Unfortunately, because construction costs are rising, some local public officials are suggesting pulling the plug on the entire project. If the Town Council were to walk away from the project, then it would mean leaving a nearly 70 percent contribution from state and federal governments on the table. Shelving the project until the future would no doubt result in greatly increased costs for upgrading the Vail and West Vail roundabouts. In addition, it may also mean a missed opportunity to address noise pollution from I-70.
The clock is ticking on making decisions about a list of tasks that need to be decided in compliance with agreed-upon deadlines determining whether the project is to proceed to construction. There is an agreement that generally locks in financial participation percentages if the project proceeds toward construction within 18 months. That deadline is approaching.
Evaluating the cost of interstate construction projects is not an exercise for the faint of heart. Interstate projects are very expensive and costs have escalated because highway contractors have now become much busier than 18 months ago when the Simba Run underpass became a federally funded project. This project is not unique. The cost of all interstate projects have gone up by a similar amount. Before hasty decisions are cast in stone, the short-term costs need to be compared alongside the long-term cost of expanding the main and West Vail roundabouts earlier than expected. These numbers could exceed the cost of building the Simba Run underpass now. As a CDOT official said, “Once a community takes a proposed project out of consideration, it will be a very cold day before the state and federal officials offer to participate in the project ever again.”
This is not a project that should be lightly swept aside. The Simba Run underpass will allow internal traffic circulation among neighborhoods located north and south of the Interstate, which reduces local traffic that now must use the main and West Vail roundabouts. It will also allow for the reconfiguration of the town’s shuttle bus system, improving its efficiency by transporting more passengers to their destinations faster. This will be an incentive for people to ride the town’s bus system rather than drive their own vehicles. It will have the effect of further reducing vehicular traffic using the main and West Vail roundabouts, and secondly, lessen the demand for more public parking in the town and West Vail commercial centers. The proposed underpass also extends the effective capacity of these two essential roundabouts (main and West Vail) for another 20 years, thus during that time reducing CDOT’s need to invest in Vail’s roadway system. However, keeping pace with Vail’s traffic and transportation system will not lessen the demand for CDOT to make further investment in the community’s transportation facilities.
Included in the project is a sound barrier wall. For years, the community has sought ways to mitigate the excessive noise pollution generated by I-70. Solutions such as tunnels and burying I-70 are by current standards cost prohibitive, leaving only soundwalls as a viable solution. Many areas of Vail are already in violation of federal highway noise standards. CDOT has tried solutions such as noise reducing asphalt to no avail. As traffic inevitably increases in the coming years, the situation is only going to become worse. The town of Vail has identified the impacted neighborhoods in a detailed highway noise study of the entire community in 2005. The report showed where soundwalls would be the most effective. But beyond those locations, protective soundwalls could be installed to reduce the highway noise levels in other neighborhoods that are not yet at pollution levels. The noise study, graphic representation of the project, sound wall designs and an audio recording of the reductions in highway noise levels for soundwalls of varying heights are accessible on the Vail Homeowners Association website under the Simba Run underpass report.
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