The high country’s ramps of last resort save truckers |

The high country’s ramps of last resort save truckers

summit daily news
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

SUMMIT COUNTY – The last runaway truck ramp on westbound Interstate 70 before Silverthorne was used about four times in the past month.

“It’s saved a lot of people,” said Larry Lewark of Ski Country Shell and Towing in Frisco.

In the 70s, trucks would burn up their brakes as they descended from the Eisenhower Tunnel to the curve before Silverthorne – and mayhem ensued.

“A lot went crashing into the eastbound lanes,” Lewark said. “Bad things happened.”

The lower Straight Creek I-70 ramp is the most frequently used of six along the highway’s mountain corridor. Together, these ramps are used 60 to 70 times each year.

They also include upper Straight Creek – on westbound I-70 not long after the tunnel exit – two on westbound Vail Pass, on eastbound I-70 in Mount Vernon Canyon near Denver.

Another ramp is on westbound U.S. 6 below Arapahoe Basin Ski Area; large trucks use this ramp when the I-70 tunnels are closed, or if they’re carrying hazardous materials.

The ramps are designed to stop a semi truck weighing up to 80,000 pounds and traveling at 100 mph, said Bob Wilson, spokesman with the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Lewark said that the number of trucks losing their brakes has also lessened since the 70s, with the use of automatic slack adjusters that help keep the brakes functioning properly.

He said most people using the ramps these days may be accustomed to similar grades, but they aren’t prepared for the length of the incline.

“They’ve been through it back east for 3 miles, but here it’s 7 or 8,” Lewark said. “They’re usually people that it’s their first time through this area.”

Other people may be driving large rental trucks for their first time.

“If it’s ever going to break down, it’s going to break down here – under extreme conditions and heat,” he said.

Most of Colorado’s runaway truck ramps were installed in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Most are less than 2,000 feet long, but they vary to a mile long. They include rounded crush rock varying in depth from 2 feet to 4 feet, according to a CDOT flier.

Because of restrictive terrain, no more ramps are planned along I-70 west. But a project is under way to improve truck safety from the tunnel to Silverthorne.

It includes more truck warning signs, upgraded “Weigh in Motion” devices in the tunnel and revised speed limits. Improved pavement markings and delineation are also planned, Wilson said in an e-mail.

“The objective is with improved advance warning signs and visibility, we can reduce the number of trucks ending up at the escape ramps,” Wilson said.

Watch for smoking trucks

Runaway truck ramps are more frequently used in summer than winter, and Lewark said non-commercial motorists need to be aware of the hazard.

“Keep an eye on the mirror. If you see a semi truck with smoke coming out of it, get out of its way,” he said, adding that he recalls from his childhood ” a lot of really bad fatalities – people decapitated because semis just ran over the car.”

Lewark said that fortunately, the ramps also give large trucks an escape to slow down from heavy traffic.

SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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