Fatalities on the rise on Hwy. 133 | AspenTimes.com

Fatalities on the rise on Hwy. 133

CARBONDALE Carbondale’s firefighters are tired of putting drivers in body bags on Highway 133.”Over the last two and a half years we’ve responded to 12 fatalities on that road,” said Ron Leach, Carbondale fire chief. And his staff is concerned about the winding, two-lane stretch between Carbondale and Marble. “We get people out of cars and pull them out of rivers and put them in body bags. It’s terrible. We’re tired of it,” Leach said.State Patrol officials said they are aware of the problem and do all they can to patrol the stretch; the Colorado Department of Transportation studied the road in 2005 and will add more guardrails this summer.Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said his deputies don’t have to patrol the road but do so because that’s what the public wants. Sheriff’s deputies watch for traffic violations and respond to accident calls, but regular patrols on Highway 133 spread his staff too thin, Braudis said.”Enforcement is not the answer,” Braudis said; rather, reducing the number of accidents on Highway 133 is a matter of compliance with speed limits.Leach said the deaths and the accidents are the result of natural conditions – falling rocks, mudslides, a wet road surface and wildlife on the road – combined with drivers going at high speed, driving aggressively or drinking. And it’s killing locals.”We can’t fix it. We can’t solve it. But we’re going to weigh in,” Leach said. “We’re the ones who have to go up and do this dirty work, so we’re going to make some noise.”Leach said he is not pointing fingers at local agencies. The speed limits are appropriate, the road signs are clear, and he knows Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies and state troopers do their best, he said.”I truly think it’s a matter of people going too fast,” Leach said. And combine that hurry with the road conditions, and the result is “carnage,” Leach said.Leach plans to open dialogue with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, the State Patrol and CDOT.”There’s always a concern, especially when it involves fatal accidents,” said State Patrol Capt. Richard Duran. “We patrol that area whenever we get a chance because of what’s going on up there.”But Duran said his staff is stretched thin patrolling the Interstate 70 corridor, as well as along highways 13 and 82.”It’s not just speed,” Duran said, but drunken driving and not wearing seat belts also contribute. “That’s what we’re trying to prevent with our patrols up there.””It’s definitely one of those places we’re trying to patrol a little bit more. But it’s something that’s very difficult with the resources we have,” Duran said.Duran said state officials are working with CDOT to look at more solutions than just patrols.CDOT officials studied the stretch of road in 2005. They looked at the topography of the road, charted conditions and looked at the trend of accidents to see which areas need attention, according to CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.”We broke down the accident statistics to see where the accidents were occurring,” Shanks said. “There have been lots of rollovers in the river.”CDOT analysts found 39 accidents involving 10 injuries and one fatality from January 1999 to December 2003. But Shanks said that with increased fatalities and increased frequency and severity of accidents on the road CDOT would do more.Based on that study, CDOT officials earned $700,000 in state and federal hazard elimination funds and will build 10,000 lineal feet of guardrail on Highway 133 between mile markers 47.5 and 53, just south of Carbondale.”It’s still a stretch that CDOT felt we need to look at,” Shanks said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.

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