County gets break with Indy Pass project and truck turnaround at gate
Drivers of trucks 35 feet or longer who ignore signs warning them to stay off Independence Pass will soon get a last chance to turn around at the winter closure gate, an official said late last week.
Previously, the county had planned to spend $223,000 to build a truck turnaround at an area east of Difficult Campground and about a mile west of the closure gate, but recent beautification work at the gate made the new plan possible, said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County public works director.
And, in a piece of good financial news, the truck turnaround at the closure gate will only set the county back about $500 for “no parking” signs and signs warning of trucks turning instead of the $223,000, Pettet said Friday.
Trucks longer than 35 feet are not allowed on Independence Pass because they cannot negotiate the areas where the road narrows, as well as some of the turns. However, trucks that long and longer frequently end up on the pass either because drivers ignore or don’t see the numerous signs along Highway 82 on the Aspen side and the Twin Lakes side, while their GPS devices often send them over the Pass without disclosing the length requirements.
State legislators recently upped the fine for driving a lengthy truck on the pass to $1,500, though the problem continues. Area officials are bracing for even more truck problems on the pass once the Grand Avenue Bridge closes in Glenwood Springs, which may send truckers over the pass who are searching for a quicker way into Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.
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County and state officials initially planned to install a chicane at the turnaround spot between Difficult and the winter gate that would make it impossible for trucks 35 feet long and longer to proceed. However, a Taggert Lake area resident and officials with the Independence Pass Foundation questioned the idea as possibly too impactful an initial step and the chicane was dropped, Pettet said.
Instead, the Colorado Department of Transportation plans to install an electronic detection system in the pavement of both lanes of Highway 82 at Difficult Campground that will trigger an electronic message on message boards when it detects a truck longer than 35 feet warning the driver to turn around, he said.
That project will cost $270,000, which will be paid for by CDOT. The detection equipment in the westbound lanes heading into Aspen will allow officials to document the number of trucks that disregard the warnings and drive over the pass from Twin Lakes anyway, Pettet said.
Karin Teague, executive director of the Independence Pass Foundation, said she and others felt it was better to try the detection system first and see if it works before the more drastic idea of installing a chicane, which may look like a permanent construction area.
If the new detection system, which is supposed to be installed by the end of the summer, doesn’t deter the trucks, the chicane could still be built, he said. If that is deemed necessary, the chicane would be built in the area between Diffcult and the winter gate because it cannot be constructed at the winter gate, Pettet said.
CDOT officials this week approved changing the turnaround point to the winter closure gate, he said.
Pitkin County commissioners earlier this week also liked the location of the new turnaround. In addition, they talked about possibly sending the $223,000 they were going to spend on the previous turnaround spot to Lake County so their colleagues on that side of the pass could install a detection system, as well.
Lake County officials have previously shown no interest in any sort of detection system, a CDOT engineer told The Aspen Times last month.
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