It’s been about five months since a tanker rolled over on Loveland Pass, spilling some 6,000 gallons of unleaded and diesel fuel on U.S. Highway 6 above Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
At the time of the spill, officials said it would take weeks to clean up contaminated soils. Months and years of monitoring would be required to ensure the cleanup operations were successful.
Last week, the Summit Board of County Commissioners hosted local town managers, law enforcement officers and Colorado Department of Transportation Region 3 officials for a quarterly meeting.
Although officials discussed a variety of topics, including the future of several Summit County highway projects and the potential launch of an interregional bus system to connect High Country commuters to Denver, the meeting also marked the first time officials from cooperating agencies and towns were all in the same room since the accident.
Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier took advantage of the opportunity to request an update from CDOT officials and to probe whether the spill was serious enough to launch a discussion about making safety improvements to Loveland Pass, which is highly traveled by truckers hauling hazardous materials.
Cleanup operations were successful, CDOT Region 3 director David Eller told the commission, adding that the area would require continued monitoring. As for improvements, he said, one hairpin turn in particular could benefit from some re-engineering.
“We could flatten that curve that seems to cause most of the accidents up there, but right now there isn’t any funding available to make major improvements to Loveland Pass,” Eller said. “There’s nothing simple we could do and almost everything we could propose would be a very expensive project.”
Considering that a major engineering project would likely be unaffordable for the foreseeable future, commission chairman Thomas Davidson asked CDOT officials if there were less expensive options, such as improved signage, to help minimize spills and improve safety for travelers on the pass.
“Is there any way we could set up ‘don’t be fooled signs’ like you see on Floyd Hill?” Davidson said. “Something along the lines of, “Don’t be fooled, you are coming into the hairpin of all hairpins?’”
Summit County assistant manager Thad Noll joined Eller in saying that Loveland Pass has adequate signage, and typically is traveled by local truckers who know the area well, particularly in the wintertime. Noll backed up his statement by pointing out that the majority of the crashes and subsequent spills in recent years have occurred under optimal driving conditions.
“Most of these accidents are happening during the summer, when you might have a commercial company venturing into new territory or a new driver to the area,” Noll said. “It really comes down to these drivers not knowing or not respecting how tight the turn actually is, or driving too fast for the load.”
Having initiated the conversation, but not yet hearing an affordable solution, Stiegelmeier questioned whether the crashes could be reduced through law enforcement.
Major Barry Bratt, commander of District 4 of the Colorado State Patrol, said increased enforcement is an option, but that no one agency has the manpower to completely police its respective territories alone. For Bratt, the solution comes down to working with local law enforcement agencies to educate the trucking industry about chain laws and to ensure that new drivers to the region understand the risks of hauling heavy loads and hazardous materials in the mountains.
“This year, as well as last year, we worked with local law enforcement agencies to conduct truck inspections and to make sure truckers were compliant by carrying chains,” Bratt said. “We work really well with local law enforcement, and the larger companies understand winter is coming and they do a good job educating their drivers.”
Despite seeing improvements in trucker safety through increased education and inspections, Bratt said it’s an unreasonable expectation to completely eliminate accidents on Loveland Pass, regardless of what steps are taking to improve safety.
“CDOT handles the engineering aspect and we handle the enforcement,” Bratt said. “From an enforcement standpoint, from an educational standpoint, we think we’re making a positive dent, but there’s no way we can get to them (truck drivers) all.”