Citizens agree bad driving root of highway problems |

Citizens agree bad driving root of highway problems

FRISCO – The Colorado Department of Transportation wouldn’t have to spend so much money on magnesium chloride if people would learn how to drive in snowy winter conditions, citizens agreed at a Sierra Club forum Thursday night.

The forum addressed the pros and cons of various traction and de-icing components used on roadways throughout the state and what alternatives might be available to keep highways open for safe and efficient travel.

For decades, the state used a sand and salt mixture to provide traction and melt ice on the roads. But in the mid-1980s, the infamous Brown Cloud that loomed over Denver and sand-clogged streams in the High Country prompted state officials to experiment with other snow-melting methods. Since 1995, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has used magnesium chloride, a natural substance mined from the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

In the past five years, CDOT and elected officials have received numerous complaints about the sticky substance, particularly regarding its corrosive properties. More than a few mechanics in Colorado have a collection of corroded car parts to verify the damage the chemical inflicts on bare metals.

Throughout the years, numerous studies have been conducted – most of them funded by state transportation departments – to measure the benefits of magnesium chloride against any possible adverse effects. Almost all the studies say the deicer is harmless to human health, the environment and wildlife, and far less corrosive than sodium chloride used elsewhere in the nation.

Caroline Bradford, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, knows the damage sand causes to mountain streams. Her organization is doing all it can to secure funds to remove 30 years of sand accumulation from Black Creek, which runs from the top of Vail Pass to the Gold Medal fishing waters of Gore Creek in Eagle County. The sand has smothered insect breeding grounds and thus degraded trout habitat in the 10-mile stretch of river.

“I do not advocate or oppose mag chloride,” she said. “We haven’t seen enough definitive, hard science. We have a big enough battle trying to get them to use less sand and to pick up what they do use.”

The differing opinions and lack of definitive evidence about various deicers has many people torn in their opinions.

“It seemed to me the first year they were developing the mag chloride program we saw a decrease in accidents and the roads cleared faster,” said Colorado State Patrol Capt. Ron Prater. “I was pretty skeptical about liquid deicers. But having seen the success in clearing the roads more quickly, I’ve developed an affinity for the product. Any product that makes the roads drier faster is a product I’m going to like.”

Statistics show Colorado had more accidents than any other state in 2001. But, Prater noted, those figures don’t take into account Colorado’s 30 percent population increase between 1990 and 2000, a 52 percent increase in licensed drivers, a 41 percent increase in registered vehicles and a 42 percent increase in the number of miles people travel.

In his decades with the state patrol, Prater said he believes the number of car wrecks on mountain roads is due to the ease of obtaining a driver’s license, the elimination of chain laws in 1978, the fact that teens aren’t required to take drivers education courses and many drivers’ belief that they have the right to drive as fast as they want.

His agency, however, doesn’t have the manpower to enforce vehicle equipment and chain laws – and is facing budget cuts in light of the state’s fiscal crisis.

“The state legislature is not law enforcement-friendly,” said County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom. “They’re mostly a bunch of good old boys from Hugo who want to drive 130 miles an hour and don’t want the state telling them what to do.”

Gary Bergman, owner of Meadow Creek Tires in Frisco, wants vehicle inspections reinstated. He also wants truck drivers to carry chains in their cabs as standard equipment, to enact legislation requiring drivers education and mandate drivers use proper snow tires – not all-season tires – in the winter.

“If I had the authority, I would take about 30 percent of the cars that go through my shop off the road,” he said. “Those are the cars coming at you at 70 miles an hour in the opposite direction.”

Roch Horton of Frisco agreed.

“The problem is that people drive too fast,” he said. “And the more deicer and sand you put on the roads just makes the problem worse. We’re just creating an urban highway in a treacherous mountain environment. We’re encouraging more speed.”


MasterDrive seminar

“Steering Teens to Safety, a Teen Drive Survival Course”

7 p.m., Wed., April 2

Summit High School auditorium

Call 668-2077 to reserve a place

Register to win a free MasterDrive class

Next clinic: May 3 and 4

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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