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Vail Daily column: I-70 plan is worth study

the Vail Homeowners Association
Valley Voices

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a report by the Vail Homeowners Association board of directors. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.

The Interstate 70 conundrum: I-70 has been one of Vail’s most persistent environmental and noise problems. Any solution to Vail’s overall transportation issues should, also, consider the future of the interstate. Recently, federal transportation authorities approved a Colorado Department of Transportation project that will expand and cover I-70 through a Denver residential neighborhood. The approval could open the door for a similar approach to resolve I-70’s issues in Vail.

To that end, the Vail Homeowners Association, at its recent annual membership meeting, received a report that adds greater definition and clarity to a potential redevelopment of Vail’s portion of I-70.

If Vail were ever to offer an “X prize” to those who capture and harness Vail’s future potential, Sig Bjornson would be a likely candidate. An Eagle County architect with ties to Vail, Bjornson, has created a community-wide, futuristic plan for Vail, the first in many decades.

His plan applies “transportation” solutions to bridle Vail’s biggest dragons: parking, traffic congestion, resident housing, highway noise and environmental degradation. It creates a framework to guide infrastructure investment into the distant future.

Bjornson has delivered a vision that is worthy of further evaluation and deliberation. It resolves many of the engineering, construction, public safety and security stumbling blocks of earlier proposals.

The plan compresses the existing width of the I-70 right-of-way by between one-third and half, freeing nearly130 acres for other uses. The design increases the number of vehicular travel lanes, including bikeways, and provides for light rail, mag-lev train lines and their stations.

These feats are accomplished by covering I-70 with a series of six bridges, some hundreds of feet in length, between East Vail and Dowd Junction, onto which portions of the Frontage Roads are relocated.

The earlier “cut and cover” concept was rejected because it buried the interstate in an underground, man-made tunnel that requires expensive excavation and disruptive earth hauling out of the valley.

Bjornson’s concept balances areas needing to be excavated with areas needing to be filled, known as a “cut and fill” method. This technique minimizes the extent of costly and disruptive earth hauling by redistributing excavated material within the construction site for each of the six bridges.

Conceptually, a bridge structure that encloses and covers the interstate is built above ground; earth is then filled in along each side. The frontage roads are combined into one multi-lane boulevard located on the surface of the bridge structure. The width of each bridge is minimized by compressing the interstate and frontage road travel lanes onto the smallest footprint possible.

Strategically placed gaps are left between the bridges to minimize the cost of replacing existing interchanges and crossings. Bjornson calls his conception the “compress and bridge” approach.

A close analogy would be the Vail Village parking structure. The parking structure was built first, then earth was back-filled and bermed around the sides.

Bjornson’s project can be built in phases over many years, or ideally, in conjunction with CDOT expansion plans through Vail. It will likely take several years of detailed study to verify the feasibility of the concept. There is no immediate deadline that would pressure officials to take up consideration of Bjornson’s plan.

There is ample time for thoughtful analysis, reflection and discussion. There is no pressing need for officials to stifle these conceptual innovations or any other creative solutions before they can even be thoroughly studied. It is a futile attempt to address the question of “cost/benefit” for an undertaking so distant into the future.

The questions for now, and the foreseeable future, should be “how can it be done, and what are the benefits?”

The question of who pays the cost, and how, should take place once there is a willingness to move the project from concept to reality. As opportunities present themselves, it will be possible to weigh the merits of the variety of concepts articulated by Bjornson, particularly in light of technological change, investment and political prospects opened by evolving conditions.

In the interim, what will be necessary is for the community to nurture the efforts of those who freely offer up ideas and concepts to better the lives of their community. The Vail Homeowners Association will explore the detail of the Bjornson Plan and its merits in future reports.

Vail needs a long range view that provides vision and incentives to improve public safety and environmental conditions well into the future. Decades of ambivalence, while a boon for those who benefit from indecision, is symptomatic of the community’s inability to articulate a coherent vision of its future consistent with its founding principles. The Association believes that as Vail reaches full capacity, it is time for Vail to once again dream about its future.

The Vail Homeowners Association board is Gail Ellis, president; Judith Berkowitz, secretary; Rob Ford, treasurer; and directors Jamie Duke, John Gorsuch, John Lohre, Andres Nevares, Trygve Myhren, Larry Stewart and Doug Tansill.


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