Keystone’s worsening traffic and safety problems prompt traffic study as residents demand action
January 7, 2018
It's been more than five years since a pedestrian was killed crossing Highway 6 at Rasor Drive near Keystone, but homeowners are still waiting for badly needed safety improvements.
In the years after the March 2012 death of 33-year-old Mircea Basaram, struck by a drunk driver early at night, residents' concerns have spread to the entire Highway 6 corridor between Elk Drive and Montezuma Road, which hasn't kept up with growth around Keystone Resort and is now routinely snarled with traffic.
"I live on my property full-time, so I'm very careful when I come and go," said Gretchen Davis, president of the Keystone Owners Association. "On weekends, regardless of whether there's snow or not, in the morning the highway will be backed up all the way to Swan Mountain Road."
Focal point of concern
In addition to being an artery through the mountains and the only alternative route when I-70 is closed, Highway 6 is like a Main Street, creating safety concerns for the throngs of pedestrians crisscrossing it daily.
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The intersection with Rasor Drive, which has a pedestrian crosswalk but no traffic light, is a focal point of concern. After Basaram's death, the Colorado Department of Transportation and Summit County government installed flashing signal lights for pedestrians, a welcome but inadequate addition, residents say.
Since 2012, there have been at least four other pedestrian collisions at that intersection alone that have caused serious injuries, according to the Colorado State Patrol.
"Pedestrian traffic is definitely our biggest issue there," CSP sergeant Patrick Williams said. "When it starts getting late at night, it's hard to see people, and there are a lot of them walking around there during the winter."
Failure-to-yield and T-bone crashes are common in the area as well. On Jan. 3, a vehicle pulled into oncoming traffic near the Oro Grande Road intersection, causing severe injuries and a major emergency response.
The traffic problem at Keystone is symptomatic of a broader trend in Summit County, with its four ski areas shifting from vacation destinations to heavy day-use areas for Front Range residents. The roads and pedestrian infrastructure simply haven't adjusted.
'All that's changed'
"The last traffic study for Keystone was done in 1994," said Ken Riley, a past KOA president and current Keystone Citizens League board member. "At that time, Arapahoe Basin was not heavily used and Keystone itself was viewed as a destination resort and not viewed as having heavy usage from Front Range day skiers. All that's changed."
Keystone Resort now has 1,000 more day skier parking spots than were originally envisioned, Riley said. Growth in the Denver metro area and attractive ski area promotions like "buddy passes" have fueled the expansion.
"Lots and lots of things have changed," Summit County public works director Tom Gosiorowski said. "We used to have a lot more destination travelers and fewer day visitors, and that's kind of flipped at all of our resorts."
Tack on record-breaking traffic levels on Interstate 70 year after year, and it's little surprise that the highway turns to a parking lot at peak hours, with some 2-mile drives taking as long as 45 minutes.
But the problem extends beyond mere congestion. In addition to being an artery through the mountains and the only alternative route when I-70 is closed, Highway 6 is like a Main Street, creating safety concerns for the throngs of pedestrians crisscrossing it daily.
"One of the essential problems is that Six is this major highway, but it's also kind of the Main Street for Keystone," Gosiorowski said. "Those are two very different types of roadway, and they don't always play nice together."
Traffic and safety issues have been simmering in Keystone for years, predating the 2012 death. In 2016, they boiled over during negotiations between the county and Vail Resorts over a workforce housing development on the north side of Highway 6.
Residents like Davis and Riley said they supported building much-needed affordable housing but were concerned that adding hundreds of new residents on the highway would exacerbate the traffic problem.
"They're adding many, many units, and while we need the housing, the infrastructure isn't there," Davis said.
The board of county commissioners approved the 196-unit Village at Wintergreen last May after nearly a year of negotiations with Vail Resorts. In doing so, the board told residents it would commission an extensive traffic study on the Highway 6 corridor.
While things like sidewalks and additional pedestrian tunnels could certainly help, Keystone's traffic problems are vexing, involving a patchwork of government agencies, landowners and businesses.
Even installing a traffic light at Rasor Drive is no simple fix. Since hazardous materials can't pass through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel on I-70, the Colorado Department of Transportation mandates that trucks hauling diesel and other chemicals travel Highway 6 instead.
"CDOT has major concerns about putting a light in there because of the hazmat truck traffic coming off Loveland Pass and the ability to get those trucks stopped," Riley said. "So they have major concerns with that and we have major concerns with life safety issues as well, and we're hoping this traffic studying identifies what the real issues are and what some reasonable solutions are that everybody can live with."
In the past month, KOA and other citizens groups have circulated a traffic questionnaire among their members. Riley said he will compile those responses to present a unified citizen's voice to the county in coming weeks.
Gosiorowski said the county hopes to begin the traffic study by spring break, but the funding source is still an open question. The hope is that traffic consultants will be able to distill the myriad issues and come up with some concrete solutions.
But as the Wintergreen development demonstrated, there is still plenty of room for growth in the Keystone area — even if the roads aren't ready to absorb it.
"We will continue to put pressure on the county, because I believe that if we don't, nothing will happen," Davis said. "It's a bit of a squeaky-wheel issue."