CDOT beefs up signs in Snowmass Canyon
October 20, 2010
PITKIN COUNTY – New signs coming to Highway 82 in Snowmass Canyon this winter will warn drivers of real-time pavement conditions and adjust the speed limit accordingly.
The signs are meant to address a problem section of the highway. Drivers heading downvalley hit a curvy, icy stretch of pavement as they enter the canyon and sometimes careen into the guardrails or each other. Multiple accidents at the upper end of the canyon last winter led to calls for the Colorado Department of Transportation to address the issue.
CDOT sought and received federal Hazard Elimination System funds to make improvements, which the agency hopes to have in place by mid- to late-November, according to CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.
The safety improvements will be focused on the downvalley, or westbound, lanes of the highway.
“That’s where the problems lie. That’s where we have the icing issue,” she said.
CDOT plans to replace signs at four westbound locations along the highway. New this winter will be variable speed limit signs, on which the speed limit is adjusted as conditions warrant. Road-surface sensors will detect conditions, including temperature and moisture; speed limits can then be adjusted downward from 50 mph.
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A variable-message board will be installed near the entrance to the canyon that can relay a warning to drivers as well as display a lowered speed limit. A new guardrail will also be installed to protect the sign.
Underground conduits for the system are now being installed, according to CDOT.
Last winter, emergency responders were called frequently to accidents at the upper end of the canyon, in the westbound lanes. Traffic often backed up as a result of the crashes.
“The overall problem is people are coming into the canyon too fast,” Capt. Rich Duran, who heads the Colorado State Patrol’s office in Glenwood Springs, said last February.
Ironically, the problem was worse when the winter weather was better. When the road on the open straight-away approaching the canyon is dry and clear, drivers barrel into the canyon at 50 mph and hit a stretch of road that has turned icy in the deep shade that covers the highway lanes by early afternoon.