Time Machine Tuesday: Constructing Vail Pass

Colorado’s ski industry depends on transportation along I-70. What would your drive to the slopes be like if it weren’t for Vail Pass?

Charles D. “Charley” Vail was the visionary behind the pass, and it – along with the town and ski area – bears his name. Director of the state’s Department of Highways from 1931 to 1945, Vail proposed the route, but construction didn’t start until 1975, thirty years after Vail’s death. Construction took three years, and the result is one of Colorado’s engineering marvels.

According to a local magazine, Vail Pass was built with “the first bridge span in the country built with pre-cast concrete (with sections ferried from Denver), erosion-resistant landscaping (including a unique retaining wall designed by architects from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West), the state’s first separated bicycle path over a mountain pass, and the first solar-heated rest area in Colorado.”

Our library collection includes a number of Highway Department documents concerning the construction of Vail Pass, and the various engineering challenges they faced. Some of these resources have been digitized by our library, including:

Also, a report on the solar-heated rest area is available for checkout from our library, as is a DVD of a 1978 promotional video, Vail Pass: A Highway in Harmony with its Environment.

Before-and-after aerials of Vail Pass, from I-70 in a Mountain Environment (1978)