Vail Pass construction expected to last for another few years

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Traffic is pictured on Vail Pass on Interstate 70. Rock blasting has caused traffic delays this year as crews chip away at the rock face to widen the pass and make room for improvements.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

When it’s finished, the west side of Interstate 70 on Vail Pass will look very different. But we’ll all have to get through a few years of work.

Transportation officials have known for some time that the west side of Vail Pass has needed extensive upgrades. The highway was designed and built in the 1970s when traffic levels, traffic speeds and vehicle capabilities were all very different.

The current plan — with construction expected to last into 2025 — will add a third lane to the eastbound side of the interstate. Other improvements include smoothing many of the roadway’s curves, replacing bridges, relocating the bike path and creating six wildlife underpasses and fencing to direct animals to those underpasses.

Work this year

  • A new, lower runaway truck ramp on the westbound side (finished)
  • Westbound remote closure system
  • Partial bike path relocation
  • Blasting to make way for a future detour

Fully funded work began in earnest this year. With the exception of this holiday weekend, work will take place at least six days per week. Crews have to work when they can due to the early onset of winter and variable weather conditions on the pass throughout the year.

This year’s work is extensive

In a phone interview, Matt Figgs, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s construction manager for the project, detailed some of the work being done this year. More of those details are available on the project’s website.

A portion of the eastbound auxiliary lane is being built this year between mile markers 185 and 190. That’s about halfway up the pass to the top.

The entire bike path on the pass will be relocated or upgraded, Figgs said. But a 2-mile section of the bike path will be relocated in 2022, Figgs said. That section has a portion that is next to the eastbound highway shoulder. A detour is already in place, and the new path segment will have a portion that runs along the south side of Black Gore Creek. Figgs said two new bridges will be built across the creek to accommodate the new route.

Work will start at the end of this summer on a new bridge at mile marker 185, roughly halfway up the pass. Work will continue in 2023.

In preparation for work to smooth a curve on the pass, crews are blasting a rock wall this summer to make room for paving a detour around that work.

It’s about safety

All the work for the pass has a safety element. The third lanes in both directions, for instance, should reduce pass closures due to accidents. First responders close the adjacent lane when working an accident scene. A third lane will allow traffic to pass those scenes.

This year’s safety work also includes a “remote closure” system for westbound traffic.

Figgs said crews will still have to manually shut the closure gate at the top of Vail Pass. But, he added, people in dispatch centers will be able to program detour and closure messages on variable message signs along the highway’s mountain corridor.

The closure system should leave fewer people stuck on the Summit County side of the pass. Figgs said the system will also allow Eagle County-based first responders quicker access to accident scenes.

The way to keep up with day-to-day activities largely starts with the project website. But, Figgs added, motorists can also sign up for emails on the daily blasting schedule and other work. There’s also the website or phone app.

Still, don’t be surprised to find spring, summer and fall construction delays for the next few years.

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