Hwy 82: an accident waiting to happen
ASPEN – Auto wrecks causing injuries on Highway 82 rose 65 percent in the past year, according to the Colorado State Patrol.Overall, there were 88 more accidents on the highway this year than in 2004, a 33 percent jump. State Patrol Capt. Richard Duran has an idea about what may be behind the higher number of crashes: Snowmass Canyon.In October 2004, Highway 82 became a four-lane road through the canyon. Since then, “definitely we’ve seen an increase in (drivers’) speed,” Duran said. But problem spots are not relegated to Snowmass Canyon. The Cozy Point and Aspen Village areas also draw plenty of speeders, he said.”People in general try to make it from point A to point B as quick as they can,” Duran said.Responding to so many accidents is straining the State Patrol. There are generally two troopers responsible for the highway on duty at one time, and they have a vast area to patrol.”We cover an area from the Mesa County line all the way through Glenwood Canyon, in addition to Highway 82, Highway 133, Highway 13, Highway 6 and all the county roads in between,” Duran said. “We’re kind of stretched for resources.”Responding to wreck after wreck over such a wide area “eventually wears (troopers) down. With so many calls backed up, that’s all we seem to do is go out and help people and investigate accidents. It does take a toll on them,” he said.While the number of accidents is up, Jeff Lumsden, patrol director at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, said they are likely not as severe as they were when the road was two lanes. The highway is vastly safer now than when it was only two lanes and known as “Killer 82,” he said. Through Thursday, there were three fatal vehicle accidents this year, the same as in 2004.In the two-lane days, “roads were nowhere near as well-maintained,” Lumsden said. “People were sliding around and they learned to drive on this stuff.”Now, “at least we’re not getting head-on” collisions, Lumsden said.He suspects the rise in accidents has something to do with wildlife crossing the road between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.Lumsden said the State Patrol is so underfunded that troopers consider the Aspen area remote.”But we have this huge population up here,” he said.And the valley is filled with tourists who are not familiar with road conditions. Wednesday provided a stark reminder of how dangerous the highway can be when a passenger from Illinois was killed at the Brush Creek Road intersection. The driver, also from Illinois, allegedly turned left across the road through a red light and was hit by another car coming upvalley.There were two more wrecks on Highway 133 on Thursday; the drivers were not seriously injured.Duran said he keeps hoping the number of accidents will fall as people get used to the winter conditions. And they should have plenty of time to practice. More snow is predicted this weekend, and then a huge storm off the coast of California is expected to move through Colorado on Monday.”We just try to monitor the weather and try to work closely with CDOT to get the roads prepared for people,” Duran said. “I know sometimes (the storms) come in quick … and if that’s the case, we rely a lot on drivers to adjust their speed accordingly.”
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