Vail Mountain could muffle I-70

Mountain could muffle Vail’s highway noise But how to pay for burying I-70 remains the multi-billion-dollar question

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Proposals to bury I-70 through Vail include tunnels under Vail Mountain.
Special to the Daily


Edward Stoner
September 29, 2006

VAIL — Several ideas for tunneling Interstate 70 through the Vail Valley are technically possible, a study prepared for the town says.

Two tunnel options, both of which go directly under Vail Mountain, are the best alternatives, the study says. The tunnel would be more than nine miles long under those options.

The “cut and cover” method, which would lower the current interstate and put a lid on it, also remains an option. It’s the most costly method, but it could be advantageous because it could be done in stages, the study says.

“It’s a really exciting thing when you start thinking about what it does for place like Vail,” said Jim Lamont, executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association.

Lamont has been an advocate for exploring tunneling options, pointing to traffic noise and the physical division the freeway creates in the town as reasons to bury the interstate.

The study, prepared by Kracum Resources of Glenwood Springs and completed last year, was released after Vail Town Council members said they were interested in it. At the Vail 20/20 long-range planning event, several residents said I-70 noise reduction and tunneling the interstate were important issues for the town.

The study looked at geology, tunnel entrance and exit locations, ventilation, infrastructure, excavation, cost and schedule.

It didn’t study how to pay for the multi-billion-dollar project.

It’s important to start looking at options for tunneling, even if they might be decades away from happening, Lamont said. He pointed to I-70, which was planned in the 1950s but was completed through Glenwood Canyon in the 1980s.


 Tunnel options
The study by Kracum Resources for the town of Vail looked at five options for burying I-70:

• Option 1 (under Vail Mountain): Timber Creek east of East Vail to the Eagle River south of Dowd Chute or west of the West Vail interchange.

• Option 2 (north of I-70): Gore Creek campground to Vail Public Works facility to Eagle-Vail or West Vail.

• Option 3 (west of Bighorn to north of I-70): Timber Creek to golf course, Public Works to Eagle-Vail or West Vail.

• Option 4 (Cut and cover): East Vail to Dowd Canyon.

• Option 5 (Under Vail Mountain to Eagle-Vail): Timber Creek to near Eagle-Vail.
Preferred plans
One of the preferred options is a 9.4-mile-long tunnel from Timber Creek east of East Vail to west of the West Vail interchange. It would cost between $2.5 billion and $3.1 billion.

The plan includes two three-lane tunnels and a separate tunnel for service or mass transit. The west end of that proposal lines up with the planned Dowd Canyon tunnel, which would straighten the interstate through Dowd Junction.

A second preferred option starts at Timber Creek on the east and goes to one of two spots: either the Eagle River just south of Dowd Chute or to West Vail.

An option that tunnels north of I-70 was more costly, the report said. Another that tunnels both north and south of I-70 was also more costly and would be disruptive to the golf course area, the report says.

Some of the tunnel proposals would be the longest in North America, but there are longer tunnels in Europe, the study says. The I-70 Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel at the Continental Divide is 1.7 miles long.

Tunnel construction would last three to six years, depending on the plan, the report says. The project would require at least six years of studies and approvals before construction begins, according to the report.

And those studies would only begin after the complex problem of funding is solved and the Federal Highway Administration, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Forest Service, local governments and other groups are on board.

Millions of cubic yards of rock and dirt would have to be removed as the tunnels are bored. Under one option, over 300 truckloads of rocks and dirt would have to be taken away every day. The study also contemplates using the railroad through Minturn to haul away the rock.

Pie in the sky?
The tunnel study is part of the Public Works Department’s efforts to study long-range transportation options for the town, said Suzanne Silverthorn, spokeswoman for the town of Vail. It was commissioned to complement a study done several years ago that examined the “cut and cover” method, she said.

“Cut and cover” would cost $2.8 billion to $3.5 billion, the study says.

Lamont said one idea to pay a tunnel project is to privatize the tunnel and collect tolls from cars that use it. Developing some of the land where I-70 is now could also help fund the tunnel, he said. Whether Vail’s infrastructure could support development on the current I-70 land still has to be studied.

Now, the community must get behind the idea for it to move forward, Lamont said. And it’s more than a pie-in-the-sky idea, he said.

“When I first came here in the early ’70s, the notion of a resort city all the way to Edwards was considered pie in the sky,” he said.

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

Vail, Colorado