Emergency crews alert to shifting detour dynamics
The Grand Avenue bridge detour may be a pain for everyone, but to some it’s a matter of life and death. And though emergency responders see the first couple of days of the detour route as a success, they’re keeping an eye out for changes expected down the road.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said he hadn’t wanted to test the detour system’s emergency response capability right away, but on the very first morning he got just that. Two ambulance calls had to navigate the detour route Monday, one from a bike accident and another for a cardiac emergency. Both reached the hospital without issue.
“I think traffic backups are as bad as we anticipated they might be,” said Glenwood Fire Chief Gary Tillotson. But the plans for emergency response access look to be working fairly well.
It’s early in the game, and Tillotson said that the heavy law enforcement presence Monday probably did a lot to ensure those two ambulances rode smoothly through the detour route.
“I don’t know that all agencies will be able to maintain that staffing level throughout” the 95-day detour, he said. “And so far motorists have been fairly patient and courteous, but I think that, too, is going to have to stand the test of time.”
Afternoon traffic jumping off the detour route onto 27th Street then Midland Avenue south to Eighth Street really clogs things up, and that section of Midland Avenue can’t handle that volume of traffic, said Tillotson.
‘COURTEOUS AND CAUTIOUS’
“And it’s kind of scary to me that those neighborhoods become much harder to access,” he said. And that includes access from the Glenwood fire station on Four Mile, which becomes “really isolated when Midland becomes a parking lot.”
Tillotson’s other big concern is on eastbound I-70 in the mornings, where he’s seen lots of drivers trying to drive ahead in the left lane, past the merge point, then trying to cut in. Drivers really need to work together and not become aggressive on the road, both left-lane drivers trying to merge in and right-lane drivers who need to let them in, he said. If that left lane gets clogged, it will block access for both emergency vehicles and buses.
“We’re all just going to have to be courteous and cautious,” said the fire chief.
The hospital, emergency response agencies and the bridge team spent many hours preparing for this event, said David Brooks, Valley View Hospital’s chief medical officer. “Now that we’re seeing the impacts, we are certainly grateful to have had that communication,” he said.
Valley View staff and local agencies meet for a daily safety huddle to assess how the detour is affecting operations.
“I think the teamwork and communication has been exceptional, and the way that traffic has been going shows that it’s really needed,” said Brooks. The fear is that future ambulance trips won’t necessarily go as smoothly. Brooks urges drivers to follow the directions of law enforcement and traffic controllers who have designed the detour route to avoid roadblocks.
If drivers keep deviating from the detour route, it could compromise the ability of ambulance crews to reach certain areas and transport people in an emergency to the hospital, he said.
Drivers are likely going to settle into a new routine, which will then be upended by the start of school on Sept. 5. Brooks is also concerned about changes to driving patterns that cold weather and snow could bring.
“The first days of the detour were well-planned, but we’re trying to prepare for problems associated with those changes as well,” and the threat of gridlocked traffic where ambulances truly can’t navigate, he said.
Emergency managers are going to have to stay alert and anticipate any problems moving forward, said Brooks. “We still have 94 days left to go.”
Stacey Gavrell, Valley View’s chief community relations officer, said the hospital hasn’t had any big issues with employees getting to work in the first couple of days. The hospital campus is covered with bikes, while lots of other employees have been using the bus.
Many of Valley View’s providers who must be ready to rush back to the hospital to care for patients, like ob-gyns, cardiovascular physicians or anesthesiologists, have been given e-bikes to get around traffic in an emergency.
And the 24-7 staff is working hard to compensate for detour delays by showing up early and staying late during their shift changes, said Gavrell.
Valley View also sees around 750 to 800 births per year, so chances are some expectant mothers will have to battle the detour to get to the hospital. But that also has been long planned for, said Brooks.
Valley View’s OB providers and certified midwives are keeping in close contact with pregnant women expecting to give birth at Valley View during the detour. Expectant mothers have been instructed to reach out to the hospital early if they start to experience labor or with any other concerns. Valley View has set up communications channels with the mothers to navigate them to the hospital, depending upon when they need to come in.