VAIL - The headlines are too familiar: "Tractor-trailer crash on I-70 at Avon kills 1," "Fatal semi-truck crash closes I-70," "Crash is third fatal accident on I-70 this week."
Interstate 70, a major corridor both for intrastate and interstate commerce, is our mountain community's source of revenue and accessibility that too often presents dangerous, or sometimes deadly, consequences. In the last two weeks alone, accidents have closed down lanes on the interstate, creating traffic jams and aggravation.
On Wednesday, a trucker traveling westbound veered off the roadway and over-corrected, according to the Colorado State Patrol, losing his life as a result. The week before, seven semitrucks crashed, including a tanker carrying hot oil asphalt. The tanker's contents did not spill, but removing the crashed truck from the interstate was a lengthy and careful process.
Late last year, a snow plow and SUV were involved in a crash on Vail Pass that sent a 21-year-old man to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. And countless other accidents often include drivers sliding off wintry roads or accidents that result because of speeding or driving under the influence.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said that the number of accidents are more or less on track with last year's numbers. He said it's hard for the patrol to track the exact number and causes of accidents because 15 calls could come in for the same car that slid off the road, and police might arrive and the car has already left the scene, for example.
At the Colorado Department of Transportation, spokeswoman Ashley Mohr said the department is constantly conducting studies around the state in the name of safety. Speed studies, which help determine speed limits in specific areas, occur every day around the state, she said.
If there's a particular stretch of road that sees multiple accidents, Mohr said the department would study those accidents to determine whether it could do something to prevent future accidents. The department would examine everything from speeds to road conditions at the time of the accidents, she said.
The department did review the accident near Wolcott recently involving the seven semitrucks and determined the crash was not caused by a road condition that CDOT could have prevented through more plowing or maintenance. That accident was reviewed because there was precipitation on the roadway, a situation in which CDOT always goes back and reviews when there are accidents, Mohr said.
"Part of the problem is where a lot of these accidents happen, there's heavy truck traffic," Mohr said. "We look at what kind of vehicles are involved in these situation and it's usually the trucks."
CDOT tries to distinguish whether truck traffic has caused an accident or whether it's a roadway design or road conditions, she said. The department currently has no red flag on Interstate 70, meaning there's no specific area that has seen enough accidents to warrant a safety study.
Lewis said in cases of blowing snow, which was happening in parts of the state on Thursday afternoon, crashes always increase. Most aren't terrible, he said - they're mostly cars that have slid off the road, causing little-to-no damage and rarely injuries, but there's a big influx of calls reporting those crashes.
Generally speaking, people go too fast for the conditions, Mohr said, adding that truck traffic is obviously not the only problem.
"Always pay attention," Mohr said. "We heavily encourage folks to pay attention to speed limits. But, just because the speed limit says 'x,' if conditions are not safe for that, it's OK to slow down."
Lewis couldn't agree more. He said State Patrol often encourages people to simply stay put when road conditions are bad, but if you absolutely have to be out on the road, always anticipate that it will take more time to get to your destination and give yourself that extra time, he said.
"It doesn't matter what you're driving," Lewis said, adding that four-wheel-drive can only help so much.