Vail still trying to stifle I-70

Photo by Bret Hartman/Vail Daily
Click to Enlarge
Traffic moves steadily on Interstate 70 Friday through Vail.
Bret Hartman/Vail Daily

Scott N. Miller
January 9, 2005

VAIL - Giving I-70 through Vail a big community "shush!" will probably take years. But it doesn't have to be absurdly expensive, either.

For now, at least, forget the big ideas of digging a giant hole for the highway, or lining the shoulders with miles of noise barriers. The money isn't available locally, and getting the wads of cash needed into state or, more likely, federal pipelines is a process that could take years, if it happens at all.

Those are among the results from a study conducted for the town last year by Hankard Environmental of Fort Collins. Company president Mike Hankard and consultant Ralph Trapani - a former Colorado Department of Transportation manager who ran the Glenwood Canyon highway project - presented those findings to the Vail Town Council at its Jan. 4 meeting.

Another big idea, resurfacing the freeway with a type of asphalt that reduces noise from vehicle tires might be somewhat more doable, but this so-called "quiet pavement" packs a handful of very big "ifs," Trapani said.

The biggest question is whether a quiet pavement can be cooked up that can withstand Vail's harsh environment. Some quiet pavement is used in the Phoenix Ariz. area, Trapani said.

"But we've had more freeze-and-thaw cycles in the last two hours than Phoenix has all year," he said.

At the moment, there isn't a formula proven to work in high-mountain environments, which means Vail would have to fund at least part of the cost to invent one. Hankard estimated the town might have to spend as much as $50,000 to invent a new formula.

Even if that happens, there's another complication: There's no guarantee state transportation officials would agree to use it in a 2007 re-paving project through Vail.

"I wouldn't spend $50,000 without the state being on board," town Public Works Director Greg Hall said.

So the big ideas are somewhere between "difficult" and "virtually impossible."

Other options

But there are still options available to put something of a damper on the rattle and hum from the highway. Perhaps the most immediate effect could be strict enforcement of the speed limit through town.

Results from a noise survey and effort to slow traffic through town were inconclusive - Hankard said there were barely perceptible drops at two measuring points. He also said a "concerted effort" to get average speeds down could result in a more quiet roadway.

Hankard said slowing down traffic will require signs informing drivers of their speed, more public education and an aggressive ticket writing campaign.

"I grew up in the East and we just knew you don't speed through Connecticut," Hankard said.

Councilman Farrow Hitt wondered if that might create a public image problem for the town.

"We've got a PR problem now with the noise," replied Councilman Greg Moffet.

While the political debate over strictly enforcing the interstate speed limit might get vigorous, the manpower would be relatively affordable, especially compared to the cost of noise walls.

Other relatively affordable options would be berms - where there's space for them - and short walls known as "Jersey barriers" that could partially block noise from tires.

Home, quiet home

If slowing down traffic, berms and short walls are the most immediately doable answers for the town, Hankard said property owners need to do what they can, too.

Homeowners can install fences, thicker windows and similar items that will cut noise Hankard said.

But, Moffet said, a lot of those ideas are "extreme" for Vail.

"If we want to encourage this, we need to accept that people will build really, really tall walls. Some people have already given up using parts of their houses and yards because of the noise," he said.

While those who already own homes may be faced with some unpleasant choices, Hankard said, new buildings could be put up with interstate noise in mind.

"Don't allow developers to build decks on the highway side of buildings," he said.

"I believe if we do a lot of little things," Councilwoman Diana Donovan said, "we can get where we want to be,"

But Moffet, long an advocate of burying the interstate, urged his colleagues not to give up completely on that idea.

"Duluth did it," Moffet said, referring to the Minnesota town. "I don't want to throw in the towel just yet."

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or