Why Summit County decided to preemptively close County Road 503 and when it might do it again
The move was to prevent any accidents from happening as inclement weather loomed in the forecast
When inclement weather hits Summit County, plow drivers do their best to clear the roadways and make them as safe as possible for travelers. In some cases, no matter how often plow drivers try to sand and clear the surface, some areas are still a danger to the community. To get ahead of these risks, the Summit Board of County Commissioners authorized a preemptive closure of Summit County Road 503 near Breckenridge on Wednesday, March 16, ahead of incoming winter conditions.
Summit County commissioner and Breckenridge local Elisabeth Lawrence said there’s been more short-term rental lodging popping up in that area, causing more accidents along County Road 503 and its counterpart Summit County Road 502, otherwise known as Moonstone Road. County Road 503 is frequently used as a shortcut to Boreas Pass Road, and Lawrence said those who are unfamiliar with the area frequently get caught on the steep incline, especially if there are icy conditions.
“It is a tricky road, and I think if you combine a car that doesn’t have the correct tires — or all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive — and an inexperienced inclement-weather driver, I think that leads to bad conditions,” Lawrence said.
Summit County resident Jay Johnson knows this all too well. Johnson has lived in this part of unincorporated Summit County since 2018 and has frequently helped drivers. Johnson said his own car was involved in an accident on Moonstone Road when another car slid into his, knocking it downhill. When Colorado State Patrol arrived on the scene, one of its patrol cars slid down into Johnson’s, he said.
“When people get on these roads, they are steep, they haven’t been sanded, you can’t stand on them, and if a car tries to slow down before a stop sign or turn, there’s such steepness that once they lock up their brakes they start accelerating down the hill and there’s nothing — other than another car or a stone wall or a snowbank — that can stop them,” Johnson said.
On Wednesday, March 16, the county sent out a release notifying the public that it was closing County Road 503 due to incoming inclement weather. The release said that despite the county’s efforts to keep the road cleared, there had still been numerous accidents on the steep road and that a detour would be set up for traffic. Homeowners and short-term rental visitors residing in the area were still able to access the road.
Though it opened back up at around 10 a.m. the next day, March 17, Robert Jacobs, county road and bridge director, said this preventative measure was meant to get ahead of any potential accidents.
“It purely is a safety response,” Jacobs said about the closure. “It’s for the safety not only of the public, traveling motorists and our staff but also the emergency responders, first responders, fire department, the sheriff’s department and State Patrol that have to respond to accidents in unsafe conditions.”
Jacobs said there aren’t many roads in the county that are subject to this kind of closure because most provide “critical points of access.” Occasionally, the Dillon Dam Road will close due to inclement weather, too, and Jacobs said that’s because of the road’s characteristics.
“The Dam Road is unique because of the drifting and the wind patterns across the dam,” Jacobs said. “When we close that, it’s because … it can get so whiteout you can’t see the car in front of you until you almost hit it.”
Though staffing has been a challenge in some of the county’s departments, Lawrence said this closure didn’t have to do with employee shortages. She reiterated that this closure stemmed from the many incidents that have occurred along this stretch of road. For now, the closure will be thought of as an experiment.
In the future, Lawrence said the county will continue to evaluate the volume of accidents combined with potential winter conditions when deciding whether to close a road.
“If you work in downtown Breckenridge and live up on Boreas (Pass) or Baldy (Road) like many people do, this is how you’re going to get home,” Lawrence said about County Road 503. “I worried about that, and I still worry about that. But we can’t ignore the fact that now there’s a prevalence of lodging that is up there that wasn’t before.”
Johnson said he was in favor of this closure and that he hopes the county considers other kinds of measures, such as a gate or additional signage, to further warn travelers about the potential dangers ahead.
“I know how difficult and costly it was for the county to put the light signs and send people up to put road closure barricades, et cetera, but until a long-term solution is found, that’s just a home run,” Johnson said about the closure.
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