Tackling I-70 truck crashes | VailDaily.com

Tackling I-70 truck crashes

Matt Zalaznick

A task force comprising state troopers, truckers and traffic engineers is now trying to cut down on big-rig crashes, which have caused countless deaths, serious injuries – and sometimes mind-boggling traffic jams – at Vail Pass, Dowd Junction and Glenwood Canyon.

Longtime locals say the perils of Interstate 70 are a part of living in a valley that has rapidly expanded since the freeway was constructed through the mountains.

“Overall, you see a lot more people hurrying that we never used to have,” says Mike Brown, a Vail native.

“I don’t think I-70 is a terribly big issue,” he adds. “People just need to take more time and not overestimate their vehicle’s capability to handle road conditions.”

People may be driving a little risker, Brown said, because of the recent string of tame winters, during which road conditions have remained relatively good.

The task force – which comprises the Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado Motor Carriers Association –studied 810 truck crashes that occurred within the past five years on the 141-mile stretch of I-70 between west Denver and Glenwood Springs.

The study found:

– 29 percent of the crashes involved only a single truck.

– 31 percent of the trucks were licensed in Colorado.

– Most crashes occurred in daylight and on dry pavement.

– Neither drugs nor alcohol played a “significant” a role in the crashes studied.

– Most crashes occurred in the winter, between November and February.

– Accidents were split evenly between the opposing lanes: 50 percent westbound and 50 percent eastbound.

“A lot of what this data is showing is that the cause of these truck accidents cannot be attributed to one or two factors,” said Jeff Kullman, transportation director for a region of Colorado stretching from East Vail to the Kansas border.

The worst locations, according to the study, are Vail Pass, the stretch running west from the Eisenhower Tunnel to Silverthorne, and Floyd Hill, east of Denver.

Some the chief reasons for the crashes were speeding, drivers ignoring chain laws and heavy traffic.

“Whether you’re driving a truck or any motor vehicle, aggressive and distracted driving behavior is always unacceptable,” said Lt. Col. Mark Trostel of the State Patrol.

“Paying attention to driving responsibly,” he added, “is especially important in the I-70 corridor studied in this research, as a great deal of this highway is mountainous and requires additional attention while driving.”

As a result of the task force’s analysis, the Motor Carriers Association –an industry advocacy group – will now teach driving techniques and chain laws to truckers who use I-70 in winter. Companies that haul toxic waste also have pledged to clean up crashes and spills more quickly.

State troopers plan to crack down on speeding, tailgating and aggressive driving for all vehicles traveling I-70. The department of transportation will put up more signs and upgrade existing signals of hazardous road conditions. Both state agencies hope to speed response to crashes.

“We’ve all been working together on many issues to improve highway safety,” Motor Carriers Association President Greg Fulton said. “As an integral part of this task force, we want to do all we can to minimize truck accidents and the impacts they have on a busy corridor, such as I-70, and this is a good first step.”

Jake Spears, a Red Cliff resident who often travels over the sometimes treacherous Battle Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 24, said he’s never felt “threatened” by either I-70 or its big-rigs.

“I’ve got Battle Mountain to contend with, but that’s probably safer because everybody’s going so fast on I-70,” he said. “But I’m glad I don’t have to commute on I-70.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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