I-70 speed limit won’t drop in Eagle Co. | AspenTimes.com

I-70 speed limit won’t drop in Eagle Co.

Steve Lynn
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Jerry Santoro has seen several of his former students die in car crashes in his 17 years as principal at Eagle Valley Middle School.

And his daughter, Jessie Santoro, was injured when she crashed this year on a stretch of Interstate 70 where the speed limit is 75 mph.

But even before his daughter’s crash, Santoro has said the speed limit on the interstate should be lowered from 75 to 65 mph.

“I’m not seeing the advantages of the speed limit being what it is,” he said. “I have seen the disadvantages.”

But a recent 100-page study on the interstate by traffic investigators from Denver concluded the speed limit is “realistic” and “justified” in Eagle County, said Jim Nall, traffic and safety engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“Most people are going to drive at a reasonable and prudent speed limit,” Nall said about the interstate in Eagle County.

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The Eagle County Public Safety Council, a group of emergency services officials ” including firefighters and police ” requested the study earlier this year. The council has said a disproportionate number of deaths and injuries occur where people can drive 75.

Most crashes occur between Vail and Avon, where the speed limit is 60 and 65 mph, according to a recent Eagle County health study. However, between Edwards and Dotsero ” where the speed limit is 75 mph ” fatal crashes were twice as likely to occur, the study says, citing the period between 2000 and 2004.

The number of injuries and deaths that occur on the interstate in Eagle County is no higher than on similar highways, Nall said.

The exception to that is Vail Pass, which has a higher-than-normal instance of injuries and deaths compared to similar highways, Nall said.

“There’s really no highway that’s safe,” Nall said.

Jill Hunsaker, public health manager for Eagle County Health and Human services, said she stands behind the findings of Eagle County health study, which also recommended the speed limit be lowered to 65.

The faster a car is going, the greater the impact of a crash and the greater the chance for injury, she said.

In 1995, 24 states increased their 55-mile-per hour speed limits on highways. The number of people who died on the interstate the following year increased by 15 percent in those states, she said.

Her cruise control set to about 75 mph as she talked to a friend on her cell phone, Jessie Santoro was headed to Beaver Creek May 16 for a dress rehearsal for a dance.

Santoro, 16 at the time, doesn’t remember how she crashed, but a man who saw the crash driving west does, said Santoro’s mother, Robin Santoro.

“He thought (Jessie’s car) was going to come through his windshield,” Robin Santoro said.

Santoro had rolled her car into the oncoming lanes. She was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and was then flown to Swedish Medical Center in Denver, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit.

“We’re very grateful that’s she alive and doing as well as she is,” Jerry Santoro said.

Despite some lingering minor traumatic brain injury that causes her fatigue and headaches, Jessie Santoro is now giving talks to teenagers and adults about the importance of airbags, seat belts (which Santoro was wearing) and not talking on a cell phone or sending text messages while driving.

In a county where the No. 1 cause of teenagers’ deaths is car crashes, Jerry Santoro said he can’t see the benefit of being able to drive 75 besides making a commute from downvalley to Vail a bit faster, he said.

“You’re saving maybe five minutes, so what’s the point?” he said.