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Vail TT Recon: Does Old Vail Pass Road Pass?

July 28, 2011
This continuation from the Route Review piece takes a look at the condition of the four miles of Old Vail Pass Road I assume the riders will race over in the Stage 3 TT. This road is gated just above the Gore Creek Campground and closed to motorized traffic. While most of the road, if a bit rough and patched in places, seemed pretty well-maintained, a couple of items cause concern for this non-civil engineer non-road expert author.

Old Vail Pass Rd, Closed to Vehicles Gate

The most common damage consists of narrow vertical cracks in the road which don’t seem wide enough to grab a tire. Grass has put down roots in some cracks, but not many considering the epic snow season and the ensuing run-off; very little grows in the middle of the road. I want to emphasize that all four miles of road do not resemble the next two photos.

Old Vail Pass Rd., example of cracks #1

Grass has taken up residence in some of the cracks, but not many, on Vail Pass Road

This one, however, seems troubling. I believe I found two sections like this:

Old Vail Pass Road, Crack #2

And then I came across these two areas of severe road damage. Hills rise from a good portion of the north side of the road. According to one of the locals on bikes I spoke to, this damage occurred recently due to the unusual level of spring run-off.

Old Vail Pass Rd, worst damage #2

The worst road damage on Old Vail Pass Rd, about 1.5 miles up

About half-way up the road I met a Colorado Department of Transportion (CDOT) employee and buggy. Her job that day was to locate the culverts and mark them (the marker is the tall green stake with orange paint on top). She explained to me that the culverts, underground pipes that carry water from ditches along the north side of the road to the creek below, can get plugged with terra-cotta-colored silt. The poor drainage causes road damage.

Colorado Department of Transportation Vehicle on Old Vail Pass Rd.

The CDOT employee didn’t know if there are plans to fix the road in time for the bike race, especially in the two areas where some of the road had fallen away. She mentioned revenues are down, the budget is tight, and oil prices are high (oil is a component of pavement, whether asphalt or chip seal). These are the realities of our current economy. Because I desire safety for the athletes and staff, I was amazed that her immediate answer wasn’t “yes.” This was unfair of me. Of course she may not be aware of plans to repair the road; certainly at my last job many plans and decisions never came across my desk, and they didn’t need to.

Then I thought back to my husband’s experience not long ago. Three-inch deep potholes lurked on the side of one of the roads we frequently ride on. He thought it might help to make a few calls and see if the potholes could be filled; maybe the potholes had not made the radar screen of the entity responsible for the road. He called the nearby city and CDOT. Both said they weren’t responsible for the road. I can’t recall if he tried the county. It shocked both of us that it was possible that no one is responsible for maintaining certain roads or portions thereof. Perhaps another call might have located the “owner.” Or maybe a good samaritan was the one who eventually filled some of them with asphalt?

Clearly someone is aware of the damage on Old Vail Pass Road; initial but unfinished repairs have begun where the road has fallen away. But what about the wider cracks, and are repairs scheduled to be completed by August 25th? Perhaps I am making a mountain out of a molehill. With all the miles riders cover, is it typical to come across and navigate these conditions from time to time? Is it normal practice to mark them if they can’t be repaired in time? People want the race to be safe; I have to believe the proper actions will take place. I still might make a phone call.

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