Planned winter shutdown for I-70 West Vail Pass improvements begins in late December

Travel Advisory

December 19, 2022 - Northwestern Colorado - Work will resume in spring 2023, including continued construction of westbound bridge

Eagle County — Crews have made significant progress on the I-70 West Vail Pass Auxiliary Lanes project. The project is part of CDOT’s statewide 10-year plan and focuses on significant safety improvements for the Interstate 70 mountain corridor. I-70 is Colorado’s only east-west interstate. As the month progresses, traffic impacts will decrease, with little to no traffic impacts starting the week of Dec. 19. The project will begin a planned seasonal pause in work along the roadway starting Friday, Dec. 30. Workers made further progress on the future westbound bridge in December with minimal lane closures. The bridge is a project focus when construction resumes in the spring.

During the winter shutdown, I-70 will return to its standard configuration to avoid interfering with winter tourism travel and snow removal operations. Motorists can anticipate typical lane and shoulder widths unless there are roadway emergency incidents. Road work will resume in spring 2023. As the project enters its second winter shutdown, here’s a look at the work accomplished in 2022 and what’s to come next year.

Work Accomplished to Date

  • Relocation of Vail Pass recreation path 
    • A nearly two-mile section of the Vail Pass recreation path was rebuilt between Mile Points 185 and 187 to provide a more enjoyable recreation experience and to make room for widening eastbound I-70 to include the new auxiliary lane. In building this new section of the trail, construction crews conducted four rock blasts and built two recreation bridges along the trail to take users onto the south side of Black Gore Creek for a short section. This relocation, which will open in the spring, will result in a more pleasant experience for trail users who will no longer be immediately adjacent to I-70. Careful drainage considerations and new collection basins will help to prevent roadway sediment from entering Black Gore Creek.
  • Foundation work for a new westbound bridge
    • Foundation work for the new westbound I-70 bridge over Polk Creek at Mile Point 185.2 began this year. Significant construction of this new structure will start in 2023. Because the new structure is being built alongside the current bridge, crews were able to continue work into December and the impact on traffic next season should be minimal. Both I-70 bridges in this area will ultimately be rebuilt, but starting with the westbound bridge has several advantages. Building the westbound bridge to the north of the existing structure will allow the new eastbound bridge to also shift to the north. This will reduce the length of the eastbound bridge by more than half, saving time and money. Moving the eastbound bridge to the north will also move it further from Black Gore Creek, reducing its impact on the creek habitat. This year, a portion of the U.S. 6 trail was relocated to make room for the new bridge and highway alignment.
  • Earthwork along westbound I-70
    • This year crews began grading work along the westbound lanes of I-70 about three-quarters of the way up Vail Pass near Mile Point 188. This earthwork was done in preparation for reconstructing the curve in this area to improve the roadway geometry and reduce crashes. This work will continue next spring.
  • Truck ramp reconstruction
    • A large part of the I-70 West Vail Pass Auxiliary Lanes project is dedicated to safety improvements throughout the project limits. As part of these improvements, crews reconstructed the emergency truck ramp at Mile Point 182 to remove a sharp right curve that was difficult for truck drivers to safely navigate. The new ramp, which has already been used in emergencies, is straight to help prevent rollovers and hazardous spills.
      Should a rollover still occur, however, crews installed a containment system under the ramp that includes a geomembrane to prevent potential fuel, oil or hazardous material spills from entering the soil or impacting Gore Creek. Materials will funnel to a settling basin for safe removal, protecting the surrounding environment.
  • Highway closure system gate
    • Work on information technology service improvements began with utility work for a westbound highway closure system at the I-70 Mile Point 190 interchange and future variable speed limit and message signs.

Season Shutdown

During this winter shutdown, there is the potential for minor work along the shoulders, but no lane closures, night or weekend work are expected. Motorists are encouraged to drive with caution, especially during the winter with unpredictable weather and road conditions.

Work Resuming in 2023

Project crews will return in spring 2023 with the initial focus on completing the westbound I-70 bridge and recreation path segment at Mile Point 185.2.The new bridge is designed to have a 100-year lifespan, improved curve geometry to accommodate modern highway speeds, and three lanes and standard width shoulders to provide more room for emergency response vehicles if the traffic lanes are blocked. Construction in this area also includes significant wall work and the remaining portion of the recreation path beneath the new highway bridge.

Improvements Scheduled for 2023-2025

Work on these improvements is scheduled to begin in 2023 and will be complete by the end of 2025, with construction pauses each winter.

  • Eastbound auxiliary lane construction
    Construction of the eastbound I-70 auxiliary lane between Mile Points 185 and 190 is scheduled to begin 2023. When complete, slower moving vehicles will have a dedicated space to climb the steep grades over Vail Pass. This lane will create separation between the faster-moving passenger vehicles and slower-moving trucks that often results in inconsistent travel times along the corridor.
  • Wildlife crossings
    • Work is scheduled to begin in 2023 on the six wildlife underpasses — two for large animals and four for small to medium-sized animals. These crossings will go under I-70 between approximately Mile Points 187 and 190. Fencing is also being added along the highway between Mile Points 185 and 190 to prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions

Vail Pass Rest Area

Parking is limited at the Vail Pass Rest Area due to a temporary closure and reconstruction of the rest area building and work to improve access roads and parking facilities. The closure is in place so that CDOT and contractor Taylor Kohrs can safely conduct work. Construction on the new rest area facility began in May 2022 and is anticipated to be complete in October 2023. Work on the replacement project is paused now due to winter weather and will resume spring 2023, weather permitting. The new building, parking and access roads will be designed to meet the high demand for services at the popular rest stop at the top of Vail Pass.

About the Project

Vail Pass is a dramatic and challenging section of I-70 in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Completed in 1979, the pass as we know it has struggled to keep up with Colorado's growing population and traffic while still serving as an essential connection in Colorado and the nation’s transportation network. Vail Pass is also subject to extreme weather and harsh natural elements. The resulting wear and tear and challenging driving conditions come at a cost: the crash rate on Vail Pass is the highest for all of I-70 in Colorado, per million vehicle miles traveled, with 558 crashes from 2014 to 2016. The INFRA grant will save taxpayer dollars by helping reduce accidents and minimize costly detours. The estimated economic impact for detours is $1 million for every hour I-70 is closed.

Design of the I-70 West Vail Pass Auxiliary Lanes project started in early 2021 on the Phase 1 INFRA improvements that have identified funding. The Phase 1 INFRA improvements include:

  • An eastbound I-70 auxiliary lane with widened shoulders between Mile Points 185 and 190
  • Westbound curve modifications with widened shoulders at Mile Point 186 and 188
  • Bridge replacement at westbound and eastbound Mile Point 185.3
  • Truck ramp reconstruction at Mile Point 182
  • Improved signage and incorporation of Active Traffic Management system
  • Variable speed limit signs
  • Highway closure system
  • Six wildlife underpasses and fencing
  • Two miles of Vail Pass recreational trail relocation between Mile Points 185 and 187

Work on these funded improvements is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2025.

Project Information

For additional information about this project:

Know Before You Go

Travelers are urged to “know before you go.” Gather information about weather forecasts and anticipated travel impacts and current road conditions prior to hitting the road. CDOT resources include:

Remember: Slow For The Cone Zone

The following tips are to help you stay safe while traveling through maintenance and construction work zones.

  • Do not speed in work zones. Obey the posted speed limits.
  • Stay Alert! Expect the unexpected.
  • Watch for workers. Drive with caution.
  • Don't change lanes unnecessarily.
  • Avoid using mobile devices such as phones while driving in work zones.
  • Turn on headlights so that workers and other drivers can see you.
  • Be especially alert at night while driving in work zones.
  • Expect delays, especially during peak travel times.
  • Allow ample space between you and the car in front of you.
  • Anticipate lane shifts and merge when directed to do so.
  • Be patient!

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