Big rigs on 82 detour fueling anger among truckers, CDOT
July 15, 2002
For people living along Lower River Road, the endless rumbling, grinding and belching that comes with having a highway through their back yards probably makes it seem as if there is no such thing as an “oversize” truck.
Lower River Road, which is across the Roaring Fork River from Highway 82, snakes through Snowmass Canyon and all the construction activity that is part of the five-year project to widen it to four lanes. The road is currently used as a weekday detour for downvalley traffic from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. That allows one of the two lanes of Highway 82 to be used exclusively by dump trucks, cranes, cement mixers and other construction-related traffic.
A few residents and drivers have complained to The Aspen Times and the Colorado Department of Transportation that large trucks are using the narrow bypass despite signs posted on Highway 82 and River Road that say, “No Oversize Trucks.”
So what is an oversize truck? Any truck that is more than eight and a half feet wide and 70 feet long. That length excludes many of the semis that cruise the nation’s interstate highway system, but not a lot of the trucks that do business in the Roaring Fork Valley, say CDOT officials.
“The road [Lower River Road] was designed for a pretty substantial length truck,” said CDOT’s Alex Evonitz. “I think a lot of the problems have to do with the quality of the driver.”
Most of the trucks that are too big for the bypass are intercepted just downvalley from Aspen Village, where traffic is funneled with orange barrels into one lane and directed by a flagger onto Gerbaz Way, the first leg of the detour.
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“The flagger at Gerbaz Way is instructed to measure the trucks. If they’re oversize, he pulls them aside,” said Ed Archuleta, CDOT’s project engineer in charge of the Snowmass Canyon project.
Pullovers occur fairly regularly, he said. Some days, as many as five or six big rigs wait for the downvalley lane of the old highway to open up at 3 p.m.
Archuleta said a certain skill is needed to tell a trucker that he or she must sacrifice time – and money – idling while most traffic streams onto the bypass.
“They get a little hot when we pull them over and park them at the upvalley side of Snowmass Canyon,” he said.
“More than once we’ve called the state patrol to assist.”
Archuleta and the state patrol reckon that a small but steady stream of truckers sneak by the checkpoint by turning off Highway 82 at Smith Way, just downvalley from Brush Creek, and drive down River Road through Woody Creek and onto the bypass with their oversized rig. The sign on River Road, near the point where it becomes Lower River Road, is meant to warn those truckers that they’re not allowed to use the bypass.
But there is little that can be done to stop truckers who are bound to cheat, at least until the state patrol shows up. “We call the state patrol right away when we spot them,” Archuleta said.
One trucker who ignored the oversize rule last summer ended up with a citation and a summons to appear in court after barreling down Lower River Road, which has a speed limit of 30 mph, knocking out a guard rail at the Snowmass Creek Road intersection and continuing downvalley on Highway 82.
“He messed up the guard rail and he messed up his truck, but he didn’t stop,” Archuleta said. At least not until the state patrol caught up with him on Highway 82.
Archuleta said one reason so many oversize trucks get caught upvalley is the state’s notification system. Operators of oversize trucks are required to get permits to travel the state highway system, either on a trip-by-trip basis or annually. Those who get passes for a single trip are informed of the situation at Snowmass Canyon, but annual permit holders may not have been. To remedy the situation, CDOT is putting up signs warning truckers of the situation.
Archuleta added that noncompliant truckers aren’t the only problem drivers on Lower River Road.
“For those idiots who try to pass on Lower River Road, we try to get the state patrol on the scene as fast as we can,” he said.