This 10-mile stretch in Summit County is the deadliest on all of Colorado Highway 9
September 10, 2017
A short section of Colorado Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling has been the deadliest stretch of the 140-mile highway in the past decade, according to Colorado Department of Transportation data.
There were nine fatal crashes on just 10 miles of highway north of Green Mountain Reservoir and along its eastern side between 2006 and 2015, the latest years of data CDOT could provide.
Colorado State Patrol spokesman Colin Remillard suggested that a combination of topography and higher speed limits made that area a hot spot.
"There's just nowhere to go in a head-on collision," he said. "Either you go down the reservoir on one side or a steep embankment on the other."
In total, the nine fatal wrecks between milepost 119 and 129 accounted for all of the deadly accidents for the 37 miles of highway between Silverthorne and Kremmling for the latest decade of data. More than half were head-on collisions.
Immediately north of the reservoir, Remillard noted, the speed limit increases from 55 to 65 miles per hour. Coupled with the generally higher speeds in northern Summit County, that means that while crashes may be less frequent in that remote area, their consequences can be grimmer.
"Once you're out of Silverthorne, there's just not much slowing things down," Remillard said. "There are no stoplights, not a lot of turn-offs and the speed limits are higher."
By contrast, the 33-mile stretch of Highway 9 between Fairplay and Frisco — which includes the hairpin turns of Hoosier Pass and covers some of Park County — had the same number of fatal crashes despite having more than twice as many total wrecks, with 2,350 compared to 1,016.
Although there are some parts of that road that are remote, it benefits from far more traffic lights, raised medians and the town of Breckenridge itself, which provides a buffer zone where there were no highway fatalities in the latest decade of data.
The average speed in the northern Summit wrecks was nearly 15 miles per hour higher than the Frisco to Fairplay section, although that excludes two drunken driving outliers going 87 and 89 mph. Those were the only two of 18 total Summit deaths on Highway 9 involving an impaired driver.
True to its reputation, the Silverthorne to Kremmling stretch had more wildlife collisions than the rest of Highway 9 combined, with 233 accidents compared with only 201 on the nearly 100 miles from Canon City to Frisco.
None of the wildlife collisions in the data are noted as fatal accidents, although that may not account for drivers who were killed after swerving to avoid an animal. The May 2011 death of a local high school student, for instance, isn't listed in the data as a wildlife crash, although reports noted that she had rolled her car trying to avoid a deer.
The total number of wildlife collisions likely understates the issue. Experts estimate at least half of all wildlife accidents aren't reported, and carcass survey data from Blue Valley Ranch near Kremmling suggests that as many as 80 percent go undocumented.
What is not shown in the latest data, however, is the early success of a CDOT project that installed wildlife crossings and underpasses on Highway 9 in northern Summit last year. CDOT reports that collisions have since gone down by 87 percent, and state patrollers agree.
"I've talked to troopers in Summit and Grand (counties) and they all say it's night and day, and I agree," Remillard said. "The collisions are definitely down significantly."