State, regional leaders talk over Glenwood Canyon crashes

Cassandra Ballard
For The Aspen Times
A jackknife collision involving a semi truck blocks westbound Interstate 70 on Jan. 28, 2023.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

Colorado House District 57 Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, hosted a meeting for regional and state officials to discuss solutions to mitigate the overwhelming number of closures in Glenwood Canyon this year.

“Driving too fast for conditions has contributed or caused all of the crash closures in the canyon so far in 2023,” a Colorado State Department of Transportation news release states. 

From op-eds and letters to the editor to local residents emailing their elected officials, people have been demanding solutions for the problem. 

“I’m hearing from constituents, and I think that all the people at the table had really good feedback about what is needed, and it’s definitely a huge issue,” Velasco said after the meeting on Friday. 

CDOT and Colorado State Patrol officials, along with representatives from Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties, Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes, Eagle City Manager Larry Pardee, and even U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper attended the meeting to discuss possible solutions.

Suggestions in the CDOT release included the potential of paving Cottonwood Pass, along with adding various penalties and possible legislative changes.

“Agencies are evaluating a range of options for limiting truck access to the canyon in certain weather conditions, especially when Wyoming has closed I-80,” the release states. “This includes determining traffic volumes and parking needs for pullovers, and the feasibility of allowing trucks to go through in storms only when escorted by a state vehicle in a convoy.”

Cottonwood Pass was discussed as a project between the counties and CDOT to develop “near-term fixes.” CDOT will begin applying for federal grants to fund the improvements on the pass for safety.

Another suggested solution in the release was enforcing a left-lane restriction for commercial vehicles in different sections of Interstate 70, though there already is a left-lane restriction for commercial vehicles in the canyon, Godes said.

The idea of having pilot cars for trucks or even convoys sounds like one of the most promising solutions, but Godes mentioned that pilot cars that typically lead caravans like this are plow truck drivers or state patrol — both of which are currently suffering from staff shortages. 

“Approximately $1 million is lost for every hour that I-70 is closed on the mountain corridor,” the CDOT release states. 

Currently, CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol are urging drivers to slow down to the variable recommended speeds for safety, along with additional measures like lowering the speed limits more, metering traffic by physically slowing traffic down with snow plows, and increasing speed enforcement. 

One solution that has been voiced by many residents that Godes said was not mentioned in the meeting was camera ticketing. 

The maximum penalty for a photo speeding citation in Colorado is $40, and the state does not allow them for state highways for various reasons

“We all know that Glenwood Canyon is a fragile and complex environment prone to extreme weather and slick conditions in the winter,” CDOT Director Shoshana Lew said. “We will continue to evaluate all options available.” 

CDOT and Colorado State Patrol have started making some preventative measures, but the CDOT release noted that these measures were in place for the two most recent closures, which included five additional law-enforcement checkpoints. 

“On Wednesday and Thursday, for example, the speed limit was reduced to 35 MPH via CDOT’s variable speed limit signs, CSP placed additional enforcement points on the canyon, and CDOT used snow plows driving in tandem to meter traffic at the posted speed limit,” the release states.

Although CDOT and Colorado State Patrol have made this issue a top priority, they are also requesting that people exercise better judgment when driving in the mountains during the winter. 

“For all of these efforts by CDOT and CSP to work for the traveling public and local communities, motorists must use common sense and be accountable for the consequences of their behavior, which includes major impacts to the economy and the livelihood of those living in the area,” the CDOT release stated.

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