Cops defend traffic response to snowstorm during Aspen rush hour
Aspen police had a traffic plan and threw all available resources toward trying to keep vehicles moving during Wednesday’s snowstorm, an official said Thursday.
However, there’s only so much officers can do when the temperature drops, roads freeze and traffic volume hits maximum, rush-hour levels, said Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn.
“I think we did a good job (Wednesday),” he said. “We threw all our resources at it. We have very little control over the weather.”
Snow started falling — as predicted — in the afternoon Wednesday and soon became a full-blown blizzard as the temperature began to drop and rush-hour traffic started to hit the roads. It didn’t take long before Main Street became a parking lot and traffic was backed up around Original Curve all the way to City Market.
Just getting out of town took some drivers an hour or more.
“When (a snowstorm) closes in at 4 or 4:15 p.m., there’s not much we can do except tell people to get some dinner and wait around,” Linn said. “We can’t make the roads not slippery. There’s nothing we can do about the volume of traffic.”
The Police Department does have an inclement weather plan, which mainly involves keeping buses moving and Main Street bus lanes clear, he said. One tweak department officials are considering is leading buses to Garmisch Street, then stopping Main Street traffic and allowing them to turn left and into the bus lanes, Linn said.
That would alleviate problems caused by buses getting stuck behind other cars at the Aspen Street stoplight trying to turn left on to Main Street, he said.
City officers were also stationed at Cemetery Lane waving traffic through that stoplight and not allowing Cemetery Lane traffic to turn left onto Highway 82 and head into town, he said. Town-bound traffic was forced to turn right, go around the roundabout and then head back into town, he said.
Surprisingly, there weren’t many accidents, Linn said. A cement truck overturned on Red Mountain Road and a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus slid into two parked cars on Aspen Street, but beyond that the situation wasn’t too bad.
Most of the traffic was clear by about 7 p.m., Linn said, adding that officers worked with the city’s streets crews to deal with slick spots.
Alex Burchetta, director of operations at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, said county deputies also worked with the county’s Road and Bridge Department to help clear up slick spots on Smith Hill Road in Woody Creek and other areas. There were not many accidents in the county because of the storm either, he said.
In fact, Burchetta said traffic began moving well after westbound Highway 82 becomes two lanes after Owl Creek Road. Snowmass Canyon was not slick, he said.
The county’s inclement weather plan includes having deputies patrol chronic problem areas including Smith Hill Road, Owl Creek Road as it drops into Snowmass Village and Watson Divide Road, Burchetta said.
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