Despite Independence Pass signs, truckers still not getting message
In the six weeks since Independence Pass has been open this season, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office has received 15 reports of semi-trucks trying to or actually driving over the pass.
While the agency has only written three tickets so far — vehicles longer than 35-feet are not allowed on the pass — the problem was punctuated Monday by video posted on social media of a flat-bed semi stopped on the first narrows section of the road just above Aspen with cars going around it.
“There’s a lot of signage,” said Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. “But just like anything, you have to be paying attention … and be aware of your surroundings.”
The Independence Pass road features two narrow, one-lane sections on the Aspen side of the pass that often stop oversize vehicles — and regular size vehicles — in their tracks. In addition, the road features numerous narrow, two-lane sections with steep drop-offs on one side or the other.
In recent years, the Colorado Department of Transportation has significantly increased the amount of electronic signs between Interstate 70 and along Highway 82 heading toward Aspen warning truckers and drivers of vehicles longer than 35-feet.
The agency even installed a magnetic detector in the asphalt at Difficult Campground east of Aspen that can tell if a vehicle is more than 35-feet long and triggers a 20-foot-high, 15-foot-wide sign with flashing lights 100 yards up the road warning truckers to turn around at the winter closure gate.
The signs even warn drivers they will face a ticket of more than $1,150 if they defy the warnings. It is difficult to miss the number of warnings, though they are not as prevalent on the Twin Lakes side.
The Colorado Legislature raised the price of the ticket in 2014 from $500, though truckers continue to often follow GPS devices that route them over Independence Pass.
In 2018, the Sheriff’s Office received a total of 24 reports of oversize trucks on the pass and wrote six tickets, while last year the office had 43 such calls and wrote 16 citations to drivers of oversize vehicles who defied the warnings, according to office statistics.
Burchetta said Aspen residents will often call the Sheriff’s Office when they see semis heading east out of town, which he appreciated because it allows deputies to catch the offenders before they get too far up the pass.
On Monday, the semi-truck with the empty flatbed stopped in the first narrows section and was able to turn around at Weller Campground, located between the two narrow sections, and head back down the Aspen side, said Pitkin County Deputy Ryan Voss.
Voss stopped the truck on its way back down near the winter closure gate and said the driver admitted his mistake and was apologetic.
“He was shaken and super nervous,” Voss said. “I can’t tell you how shaken he was.”
Voss did not ticket the driver, but said he saw the man’s GPS, which had directed him over the pass. Cyclists and other drivers often will make it clear to drivers of oversize vehicles that they shouldn’t be on that section of the road, he said.
GPS devices are often the main culprit with truckers who try to drive the pass. Burchetta said his office tried to work with GPS manufacturers and Google maps in 2015 but found there wasn’t much they could do to counteract the wrong directions.