A third lane for I-70 at Vail Pass?

Alison Miller
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
A view of Interstate 70 from the top of Vail Pass. The Colorado Department of Transportation is considering widening the four-lane highway from mile marker 180 at East Vail to mile marker 190 at Shrine Pass Road, just past the Vail Pass summit, for traffic safety purposes. (Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily)

VAIL ” Nothing makes an Interstate 70 motorist cringe like cresting Vail Pass at a steady speed only to wind up below a slow-moving truck with no room to pass, or having to hit the brakes for an accident ahead.

“I was stuck on the pass for a couple of hours one year,” said Paul Miklas, who has been making the trip from the Denver Airport to Vail every year for 32 years. “There was black ice and an accident, so we got diverted off the highway and it took a very long time.”

Miklas’ experience is just one example of what the Colorado Department of Transportation is working to avoid with a proposed third, slow-moving traffic lane for the west side of the pass ” from the summit down toward Vail, project manager Peter Kozinski said.

Adding a third lane will help prevent motorists from having to change lanes to pass slower vehicles, and will help get traffic moving more quickly after an accident occurs, Kozinski said.

There were 26 accidents that resulted in injuries on Vail Pass in 2006, according to Colorado State Patrol.

When Warren Meyers of Los Angeles made a trip over the pass on Tuesday, there were a number of truckers on the road, as well, he said

“You sort of have to learn how to get around them,” Meyers said. “When we came in it was mid-week and sunny, so we didn’t have any problems, but I can see how much of a problem it could be during ski season.”

If a third lane is built, trucks will be restricted to the right-hand lane, Kozinski said.

Members of the public will have their chance to weigh in on the proposal to widen I-70 on the pass on Tuesday, April 3, when CDOT holds an open house meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Donovan Pavilion in Vail, Kozinski said.

A final recommendation on the project is not expected to be made until the end of 2008, he said.

“The widening of the roadway will create construction issues for the area, so we really want to know what kind of an impact that will have and how best to deal with it,” Kozinski said.

Though a decision will be made next year, funding for the construction could push the project’s completion out a few years after that, Kozinski said.

The first and most immediate goal for CDOT is to develop a way to capture and contain the sand that comes off the road after it is applied during winter storms, Kozinski said.

“We apply sand to roadways for safe driving, but the majority is not collected, so it migrates into Black Gore Creek which creates problems for the wildlife and the water,” Kozinski said. “We will try to capture and control that sediment, but we need to know how the pass will ultimately be built out so we can plan effectively and not waste money.”

The need for a third lane is not in question, Meyers said, but whether the money could be used for better alternatives ” like mass transit ” is.

“No doubt about it, people will use and probably very much enjoy having another lane, but it seems like a waste of money when what the area could really use is mass transportation ” like a train,” Meyers said.

The plan to widen the pass is a result on an ongoing CDOT study of Interstate 70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs, and is just one part of the overall solution, Kozinski said.

The additional lane is part of the agency’s 25-year plan, and the agency has not ruled out rail transit as part of their 50-year plan, he said.

“This project does not preclude a rail possibly coming through the valley, or even dedicated bus lanes,” Kozinski said. “We might still need to widen the highway, though. Trucks need to climb and come down that hill even if rail is there.”