Vail Pass rest area project more than just restrooms

$22.2 million project adds restrooms, parking, aims to ease traffic congestion

Scott Miller
Vail Daily
The purpose of the Vail Pass rest area replacement is to improve the existing rest area facilities.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

The Vail Pass rest area project will improve the restroom facilities, but there’s a lot more involved.

The $22.2 million project started work in May of this year, and won’t be finished until October 2023. A lot has to get done in that time.

Four facts

The Vail Pass rest area sees more than 500,000 visitors per year.

It’s the busiest rest area in the state.

The new facility will more than double restroom facilities.

Built in 1980, the site somehow has historic value.

Hope Wright, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s building and rest area asset manager, recently provided the Vail Town Council with an update on the project. One of the primary goals is to fix a number of problems at the high-elevation site.

One of the biggest fixes is improving traffic circulation from the Interstate 70 interchange to the site.

Wright noted that the old building wasn’t immediately noticeable from the eastbound lanes. That could result in traffic backups. The building’s access also had some steep grades to the building that required shutting off big truck access several times every winter.

The new plan also increases parking for all the user groups that use the area. Truck parking will be expanded, as will parking for passenger vehicles and recreational users. The new plan will also include a dedicated recreation path. Users of the path currently have to share access with vehicle traffic around the rest area.

Updates to the site include moving the rest area building closer to the highway and recreation access points. The plan also includes closing Black Lakes Road, in order to move the motorists’ first “decision point” farther from the off ramp. A gate will be added to Black Lakes Road for snowmobiler access. Plans call for traffic to run one way in and out of the new rest area.

The building itself will be LEED certified, and will have more and better restroom facilities, from 10 to 22 spots. Those facilities will be in two rooms each for men, women and families, to ensure the facilities will remain open while one room or another is cleaned.

A new fresh water system will help meet the demand of the more than 500,000 people per year who use the area, and a U.S. Forest Service building, often mistaken for the rest area, will be relocated.

While the old rest area was built in 1980, it’s part of the I-70 “historic district.” Acknowledging that history is going to add a lot to the project.

There’s going to be a viewing deck in the shape of the old building on the site. In addition, Wright told council members there will be elements to “honor” the lynx and other wildlife in the area and murals to recognize those involved in the original construction of the highway over the high mountain pass.

There will also be floor graphics for the main hall. An internal viewing deck in that building will also feature posters about the place in the style of those commissioned by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.

The rest area will also acknowledge the Ute Indians, who once called the area home.

The rest area is currently closed since it’s an active construction area. During construction, state transportation officials recommend motorists use the restroom facilities at either Edwards or Georgetown. Recreation access is still available, and the recreation path remains open, even as work continues to move the path as part of the West I-70 project.

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