CDOT eyes safety where pedestrian was killed on Highway 82 near Aspen |

CDOT eyes safety where pedestrian was killed on Highway 82 near Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Michael Appelgate The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Colorado Department of Transportation officials will visit the site of a recent fatal accident involving a pedestrian and a bus on Highway 82 near Aspen with an eye toward potential safety improvements in the area.

The Jan. 1 death of Joanie Marie Kocab, a Basalt resident and newcomer to the Roaring Fork Valley, has spurred calls from some quarters for better lighting and other improvements. An Aspen resident who was riding the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus that struck Kocab initiated the call for more lighting in the area, and RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship also has said some additional lights between the airport and Buttermilk – a particularly dark stretch of highway – would be helpful.

“We’re taking it seriously. We want to understand the problem,” said CDOT program engineer Joe Elsen in Glenwood Springs. Elsen said he anticipates local government officials will join CDOT representatives in a site visit later this month.

Kocab apparently was walking upvalley in the Highway 82 bus lane, near the east end of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway and just downvalley from the Owl Creek Road intersection, early in the morning of Jan. 1. It’s not an area where pedestrians are expected. The bus driver reportedly didn’t see Kocab, who was struck from behind and killed by the Aspen-bound bus.

A pedestrian/bike path parallels the highway on the opposite side of the road, but there was no shoulder where Kocab was walking, and a guardrail leaves no space to walk off to the side of the pavement.

In addition to better lighting, some locals have suggested better signs to designate the bus lanes and direct pedestrians to the path on the opposite side of the highway.

Aspen resident Dawn Lamping recently wrote a letter to the editor of The Aspen Times in which she described encountering another pedestrian who was walking upvalley in the bus lane in roughly same general vicinity. He was unaware of the danger, according to Lamping, who stopped her vehicle to pick him up. She also related the story to David Eller, CDOT Region 3 director, and urged the agency to take steps to improve safety in the area.

Eller, in an email letter that was copied to Pitkin County commissioners, assured Lamping that CDOT has initiated discussions about potential safety improvements.

“While signing and pavement markings are certainly easy improvements that will be reviewed for possible implementation, increased lighting will take further evaluation both with local governments and local citizens,” he wrote.

Better lighting and delineation of the pedestrian path also has been discussed, Eller indicated, but legally binding commitments to avoid light pollution were made when Highway 82 was improved in the area. Additional lighting would require the involvement of local “stakeholders,” he said.

County commissioners this week briefly pondered their role in discussions about safety improvements in the area. Highway 82 is a state highway, but the accident occurred in unincorporated Pitkin County.

“Should we broach that subject? Should we talk to CDOT about it?” Commissioner Rachel Richards asked her colleagues.

Commissioner Michael Owsley suggested commissioners wait until the results of an investigation into the accident are made public.

“I think it’s premature to offer solutions to an event when you’re not sure what happened,” he said.

The Colorado State Patrol conducted the investigation with the assistance of other agencies. Authorities were trying to ascertain how Kocab, 29, returned to the outskirts of Aspen after heading downvalley to Basalt and why she wound up walking on the highway at about 2:30 a.m. The patrol’s report has been turned over to the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether charges stemming from the accident are warranted.

The bus driver was placed on leave after the accident. The District Attorney’s Office is still reviewing the case.