Pitkin County mulls $500K solution to trucks on Independence Pass
Pitkin County commissioners and the Colorado Department of Transportation are considering spending half a million dollars to try and keep large vehicles off Independence Pass.
The proposal to utilize both modern technology and a physical barrier to stop semi-trucks and other vehicles more than 35 feet in length from driving up and over the pass comes after sheriff’s deputies turned around more than 20 trucks one day in late July when Glenwood Canyon was closed. Vehicles longer than 35-feet cannot negotiate the narrow, winding road.
The state raised the fine for driving a large vehicle on the pass to nearly $1,500 more than a year ago, though that has not stopped the problem. Truckers continue to ignore numerous signs between Glenwood Springs and Aspen warning of the length prohibition, often in favor of following GPS alternate routes that don’t differentiate between types of roads, officials have said.
So, earlier this year, commissioners directed county staff, CDOT staff and members of the Independence Pass Foundation to come up with a solution to the problem.
“I think we’ve come up with a solution we’d like to try,” Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director, told commissioners Tuesday during their regular weekly work session.
First, CDOT is proposing to install technology near Difficult Campground that would be able to identify vehicles more than 35 feet in length and relay that information to an electronic sign up ahead warning the driver to turn around about a mile up ahead, said Zane Znamenacek, CDOT traffic engineer.
“We want to make it as attention-getting as possible,” Znamenacek said.
CDOT would pay for that system, which would run between $200,000 and $250,000, he said.
Next comes the turnaround spot, which would be located between Difficult and the winter closure gate. There, the county would pay for and build an artificial curve in the road called a “chicane” meant to mimic the road’s narrow conditions above, Znamenacek said.
In order to avoid the chicane, the trucks would instead follow a roundabout that would route them back toward Aspen, he said. Normal sized cars would simply follow the chicane curve and continue up Highway 82. The chicane and roundabout would cost the county about $250,000, Znamenacek said.
“The idea of putting obstacles in the highway is not something CDOT takes lightly,” he said. “It’s a very extreme measure.”
In fact, CDOT hasn’t built anything similar on any highway in the state, he said. However, Znamenacek said he’s run the idea past his superiors and officials with the Colorado State Patrol and found that “maybe it’s time for an extreme solution.”
Pettet said the idea of the chicane is to make an S-curve that’s hard if not impossible for semis and RVs pulling large trailers to make.
If built, the project would be a pilot program and could later be installed on the Twin Lakes side of the pass, though Znamenacek said he wants to make sure it works before it’s deployed elsewhere.
County Manager Jon Peacock suggested that instead of installing the technology portion of the project, perhaps CDOT and the county could both fund only the chicane because it would likely be more effective. Znamenacek said he would prefer building both aspects of the project, though he admitted that the physical barrier would likely be the most effective of the two.
If the project is approved, Pettet said he’d like it to be built in the spring so that it would be in place before construction begins on the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs in August.
All five commissioners liked the idea Tuesday and directed Pettet and Znamenacek to continue to refine the plan and look for funding options.
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