2017

I-70 is out of control

On November 30, 1965, Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” was released to the chagrin of auto manufacturers. Few thought the book would sell, but within six months it became a New York Times bestseller alongside Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”

The auto industry’s outrage was palpable, but several months later, a once-resistant Congress created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and features we take for granted—air bags, safety harnesses, rearview cameras—have become standard.

Fifty years later, the good news is traffic deaths have dropped from five for every 100 million miles traveled to one per 100 MMT. But the bad is those features have lulled drivers into a false sense of safety. For the fourth year in a row, Colorado traffic deaths have increased, rising 24 percent from 2014 to 2016 with further grim growth guaranteed for 2017.

Leaders, including CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt, suggest failure to buckle up and distractions such as texting are to blame, but one wonders if CDOT seriously measures its potential complicity in the grim reaping. CDOT regularly posts reminders on highway zipper boards about the number killed, but then proceeds to construct disaster-in-waiting roadways.

Case in point: The I-70 Corridor between exits 232 and 240 where speeds are out of control. If you drive it, you’ve likely experienced a butt-sniffing driver sitting on your tail prodding you not-so-subtly to drive faster. It’s gotten so bad that one feels he/she is impeding traffic if driving less than 75 mph.

And thanks to CDOT, little can be done about it.

When it touted the Peak Period Shoulder Lane—PPSL—CDOT insisted it would facilitate the flow of eastbound traffic, which it has, and provide for a safer highway, which it hasn’t. When the PPSL is open, that eight-mile stretch has no shoulder. In fact, even when the PPSL is closed, the 232-240 stretch essentially has no shoulder to safely pull onto, which is a potential source for tragedy.

For example, there was a stopped vehicle with out-of-state plates recently straddling the solid line between the right lane and guardrail just east of the Dumont entrance where the “shoulder” is about three feet wide. Fortunately, the volume wasn’t heavy, which allowed traffic to slow and merge safely into the passing lane. Disaster averted.

Given the PPSL has evolved into an ultra-high-speed, fly-through lane, I asked Sheriff Rick Albers how that presents a dilemma for the Clear Creek Sheriff Office and Colorado State Patrol.

“Speeding is not only an issue on I-70 through the new express lane area,” said Albers, “but everywhere on I-70. Neither the CSP nor CCSO have enough officers to cover it.”

“Trying to pull a vehicle over through the 241 to the 232 corridor is hard,” he continued. “An officer has to try and pre-plan the stop at either an exit, the chain up area, or two of the pull-outs that are along the route. If not, they have to wait until they are clear of the express lane area.

“This is a challenge for the officer, because it all depends on where the violation occurred or how the violator is going to react. Most people will pull to the right and stop, but as you know, that is a really bad idea along this section of the road as there is no shoulder to pull off to. Even if the violator pulls off to the left, where they should through this section, the officer still has to be careful when and where to stop as most people are not accustomed to traffic stops being conducted on the left.”

CDOT is aware of the serious safety concerns it created on the eastbound PPSL. I asked Transportation Liaison Jo Ann Sorensen if there is any discussion about them during the talks on a westbound PPSL.

“CDOT has done a safety analysis and has found there are other ways to make PPSLs safer,” she said.

When asked for specifics such as widening or adding real shoulders, Sorensen said, “At this time, there is no proposal on the table to widen the eastbound PPSL. However, as we are planning the westbound PPSL, additional widening is definitely being discussed for that project based on experience gained from eastbound PPSL.”

Next week: CDOT’s incrementalism

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