Vail still trying to muffle I-70
Some in town still think freeway should be buried or put in a tunnel

Photo by Preston Utley/Vail Daily
Click to Enlarge

Browse Vail Daily Photos
Jamie Wilson holds a device that measures sound decibles while Tom Kassmel talks a bout ways people can cut down on the noise entering thei homes.
Preston Utley/Vail Daily

Edward Stoner
September 8, 2006

VAIL — Like a dieter trying to cut calories, Tom Kassmel searched the house for ways to trim a decibel of interstate noise here and there.

He started with the door. It was thick and sturdy.

“The heavier the door, the better,” he said. “Solid wood is good.”

He looked closely for any small cracks or joints in the door, switching off the lights to see if any light from outside was coming through. It looked pretty airtight. Again, good.

“If you can see light coming in through the door jamb, you should add some additional weather stripping,” he said.

Kassmel, the town engineer, was conducting a noise audit for a home perched above Interstate 70 in West Vail. Hankard Environmental, a noise specialist that works with the town, will do free audits Wednesday. After that, the town staff will conduct them by request.

Noise from I-70, which slices through the center of Vail, is a perennial issue in town. For homes near the freeway, the noise can measure 70 decibels with the windows open. In comparison, an amplified rock band measures 115 decibels, a normal conversation at 6 feet measures 60 decibels and human breathing measures about 10 decibels.

Small steps to improve soundproofing in homes can reduce noise by 3 decibels — the smallest amount that’s perceptible to the human ear. Michael Hankard of Hankard Environmental said any project that reduces noise by 5 decibels or more makes a soundproofing project worthwhile.

Especially with older homes, new windows and doors can make a difference in noise levels, Kassmel said.

Often, the more energy efficient a door or window, the more noise efficient it is, Kassmel said. An improvement in energy rating can cut down the noise, he said.

The home had double-pane windows, which is good for cutting down noise, Kassmel said. Special windows have “sound transmission class,” or STC, ratings that block noise.

For some homes, it might be a good step to put in a second layer of drywall on the wall that’s facing the interstate, Kassmel said.


 Noise audits
Hankard Environmental, a company that consults the town of Vail on noise, will conduct free noise audits for residents from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday. Call Town of Vail Project Engineer Chad Salli at 479-2169 to schedule an appointment.
Burying costs billions
Greg Hall, director of Vail Public Works, said the audits are a way to reach out to residents to help with the problem, even if larger, multi-agency solutions may not be coming together quickly.

“How can we help residents, because obviously building noise walls take a long time to get approvals,” he said.

Several noise-reduction projects are already happening or are on the horizon. In East Vail, the Colorado Department of Transportation is building sand berms that block noise. But there’s no space for berms in West Vail.

Also, the state plans to pave the interstate with quieter asphalt in 2008 or 2009. The same asphalt is currently being laid on I-70 at Edwards.

A third effort is the town’s “65 Max” program, which includes more patrolling by police officers and more signs to reduce the speed of traffic.

The town is also trying to make sure noise reduction efforts are included in the state’s long-range plan for I-70, which is currently under review. Efforts to lobby the state and the Federal Highway Administration for funding are ongoing, Hall said.

Vail councilman Greg Moffet, a steadfast advocate for noise reduction, said the noise audits won’t help enough.

“It’s a failure on our part that we’re asking people to engage in this exercise,” he said. “We’re trying to kill an elephant with a pea shooter.”

The message shouldn’t be to soundproof your home and turn on the air conditioner during the summer, Moffet said.

“You ought to be able to sleep with your windows open,” he said.

The sand berms are helping in East Vail, and the 65 Max program is reducing noise from trucks’ jake brakes, Moffet said.

Moffet said the solution might be sinking the interstate and covering it or tunneling through Vail Mountain, two options that have been explored by Vail Village Homeowners Association Executive Director Jim Lamont. Both have price tags in the billions.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

Vail, Colorado