Speed can kill
Public safety officials are examining two severe back-to-back accidents around a construction zone on Interstate 70 just west of the Minturn exit last week, one of them leaving man dead.
Some officials say the accidents may have been caused by diminishing lanes that marge traffic at a sharp, downhill turn.
Colorado Department of Transportation officials, however, say people just need to slow down.
“We’re trying to make adjustments to that particular corner,” says Keith Powers, a departmental inspector and resident engineer in Eagle County. “There’s been excessive speed through that construction zone, people running well over the 65 mph limit at the turn.”
“Sailing around there’
Last week, 52-year-old J. Francisco Carrillo of Edwards died after slamming into a truck that was stalled on the interstate just west of the Minturn exit at mile marker 170.
“I was sailing around there at 2:30 that day,” said Greg Finch, a resident in Arrowhead who saw the accident. “I was surprised to find a line of stopped cars coming around that corner. They were throwing gravel, tires were squealing, skids marks all over the road. I looked in my rear-view mirror waiting for one of those semi trucks to slam into someone.
“I can tell you exactly why that accident happened. I doubt that truck stalled going 65 mph. It stalled because of the traffic,” Finch added.
Public safety officials said the road was clear and dry with proper markings for traffic control.
Still, two severe accidents occurred in the same location within 24 hours.
“We need to adjust the traffic control at that section of the interstate,” Powers said. “It’s strange, because sometimes the day will be fine and then things go haywire. People don’t slow down.”
The transportation department has been working on building gravel runaway truck ramps near the bend in Eagle-Vail, he said. The department closed the right lane in preparation for repaving, removing part of the shoulder in that area. When construction begins for the shoulder repair, traffic will be slower, he said.
The speed limit in that area is 65 mph, but Powers said people fly through the corner exceeding the speed, unable to slow down in time for the merging of traffic lanes.
“People just stay in the right lane the whole time and finally move over at the last minute,” he said. “And the other cars in front of them won’t let them into the other lane.”
The speed limit was lowered briefly, but it caused a “bottleneck,” he said.
“We keep the speed limit up to get people through all that construction, getting them from point A to point B and not impeding on their travel time,” he said. “But people aren’t reacting in time to slow down for those lane closures.”
Another problem area for the transportation department is the traffic along U.S. Highway 6, Powers said.
“People need to share the roads,” he said. “There are cars on (U.S. Highway) 6 not giving the bikers any room, and then there’s bikers not moving over for the cars.”
Double the signage
As a way to mitigate the problems along that corner, the transportation department plans to double up the signing near West Vail to get people to slow down and move over sooner, he said.
“We are trying to double up the signs,” Powers said. “We hate to have to put a flagger out there because it really slows up the traffic, especially when bad accidents only happen there once in a while.”
Although the accident rate ranks high near that corner, Powers said the setting sun also leads to poor visibility that results in some accidents.
The fatality last week apparently was caused by excessive speeding and brake failure, public safety officials said.
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.