Highway 82 intersection raises concerns

Bobby MagillGlenwood Springs correspondent
Rich Backe stands in his driveway as vehicles whiz by on Highway 82 Friday near the Buffalo Valley restaurant. Backe is upset by all the accidents on the highway.(Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent)

“There are a million different ways to get hit here.”Here, for Rich Backe, is Colorado Highway 82 at the County Road 154 intersection, directly across from Buffalo Valley Restaurant. It’s a stretch of highway notorious for carnage and crumpled cars. Backe, whose house sits a short way up a gravel driveway across from Buffalo Valley, has to brave making a left turn from the Aspen-bound lanes of Highway 82 into his driveway. There are no turn lanes, no signs warning drivers that other vehicles may be turning, and little sympathy from drivers annoyed that someone is slowing traffic in the highway’s left lane. Many raised middle fingers pointed in his direction while he was just trying to pull into his driveway, but Backe said you just get used to it. “Patience is everything,” he said. “I’ve got to be patient to pull in here. People are losing that in this valley.”

Backe’s driveway serves three homes – not enough, he said, to warrant any special accommodations from the Colorado Department of Transportation or the Colorado State Patrol. The point, he said, is many, many wrecks happen on this curvy, high-speed highway, and the dangers of getting into his driveway illustrate that point.He said something must be done to reduce the carnage. Backe doesn’t exaggerate. According to State Patrol Capt. Richard Duran there have been 23 vehicle accidents involving only property damage at or near milepost 4 since January 2004, nine accidents with injuries and one fatal. The most recent accident on Wednesday involved a van that allegedly failed to yield to a Glenwood-bound Jeep while crossing Highway 82 from Red Canyon Road. There were no injuries, but the van driver was cited for failing to yield. Backe said he sees accidents on the highway all the time, especially in winter, when people seem to drive too fast for conditions. The biggest problem, he said, is turning in any direction onto Highway 82 from Buffalo Valley where there are no turn lanes and no acceleration lanes.

A caution light warning drivers a dangerous intersection lies ahead would help, he said.Duran said drivers tend to drive 65 mph or faster, even though the speed limit drops to 55 mph before the Buffalo Valley intersection. Speed, coupled with a lack of deceleration lanes and the abundance of driveway entrances in the area all lead to accidents, he said. But while accidents are frequent, Duran said CSP has seen an overall decrease in accidents between Glenwood and Carbondale. The agency is now concentrating intensive traffic enforcement in Snowmass Canyon between Basalt and Aspen, which is also considered a dangerous roadway. Patromen still must drive Highway 82 to get to Snowmass Canyon, so they will still be keeping an eye on traffic north of the canyon, Duran said. The need for improvements near milepost 4 is not lost on State Patrol, he said.

“I haven’t gotten into any major discussion with CDOT about it, [but it is] something I intend to do just to improve safety of that highway there,” Duran said. Changes to that stretch of Highway 82 may soon be in the offing, depending on the results of the Corridor Optimization Study spearheaded by the city of Glenwood Springs, said CDOT traffic and safety engineer Jim Nall. The study, he said, will look at current challenges the highway faces and what improvements can be made to offset growth in the valley over the next 20 years. The study will focus on three intersections in the vicinity of milepost 4 – including the Buffalo Valley intersection – to determine if a traffic signal is needed. Nall said the study will begin Friday and continue for three or four months. Meanwhile, Backe will be waiting patiently to turn into or out of his driveway – a feat that sometimes takes 15 minutes. “It’s fun in the morning rush hour,” he said. “There’s too many ways to get hit.”