Carbondale ambulances call the shots at Highway 82 intersection
Getting stuck in a Highway 133 log jam can be annoying for motorists, but down right life threatening for critical patients in Carbondale’s ambulances.Delays in getting through Highway 133 and up on to Highway 82 are being alleviated by a device called an Opticom. It can turn red traffic lights green, and speed ambulances on their runs to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.”It helps, but doesn’t eliminate delays,” said Carbondale fire chief Ron Leach of the device.Carbondale residents have been coping with afternoon traffic jams on Highway 133 that can back up cars for a half mile or more to the south from Highway 82. Leach said that when an ambulance with a patient on board heads out of town during afternoon rush hour, it gets into line on Highway 133 “just like everybody else.”Opticom’s range is about 300 feet. That means ambulances must wait until they get to the south end of the Highway 133 bridge before they can make the signal turn green to proceed onto Highway 82.Leach said the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District installed the Opticom devices in its three ambulances three years ago. Ambulances first started to be impacted by Highway 133 delays five or six years ago, and the problem has grown worse in the past three or four years.A worst case scenario these days is for an ambulance to pick up a critical patient during rush hour. In rare instances, northbound ambulances must take over Highway 133’s center lane, then use the oncoming southbound lane on the Highway 133 bridge to get onto Highway 82.”That’s an extremely dangerous option,” Leach said. “There’s the potential for a head-on collision.”Sometimes, Carbondale police are available to stop traffic and get the ambulances onto Highway 82. “It depends on the time of day and law enforcement availability,” Leach said.The lead EMT and driver make the decision on whether to use Highway 133’s “suicide lane” to access Highway 82.Leach said that as far as he knows, there have been no deaths of ambulance patients due to delays suffered on Highway 133.Carbondale has contracted to add a downvalley turn lane this summer at the intersection of Highway 133 and Highway 82. Beyond that, Carbondale is trying to figure out how it can fund $37 million in upgrades to Highway 133 to make the highway safer and alleviate afternoon traffic jams.Until then, “There’ll be longer delays and more of them,” Leach said. “This runs contrary to good patient care and fast response.”
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