Midweek storm snarls Highway 82 commute
February 21, 2002
Traffic was tricky for many motorists during and after one of the valley’s more substantial snowfalls of the season.
The Aspen Police Department responded to a total of 18 accidents on Wednesday and six more on Thursday. According to information from the Aspen/Pitkin County communication center, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office responded to 10 accidents during Wednesday’s snowfall and nine today.
Upvalley travelers found themselves sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic heading into Snowmass Canyon, where the steep canyon walls kept the road icy and treacherous.
“You’d go around a curve in the canyon and the car would start to slide into the other lane,” said Aspen Deputy Police Chief Glenn Schaffer.
Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance supervisor Phillip Anderle said the temperature along the Highway 82 corridor was too cold in the morning to use magnesium chloride. So CDOT used sand and salt, which may not have been as effective.
Even so, Capt. Scott Friend of the Colorado State Patrol said the number of accidents in Glenwood Canyon Thursday morning was much higher than those along Highway 82. The total number of accidents the state troopers responded to was not finalized as of press time.
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“There were at least a dozen accidents this morning in Glenwood Canyon, and all were ice-related, where people were driving too fast,” Friend said.
In Glenwood Canyon, CDOT did use magnesium chloride around 7 a.m., but the temperature dropped at 8 a.m., and the area refroze just before rush hour, Anderle said.
“Mag chloride works great, but it needs to be used in the right conditions, and today’s temperatures were too low,” he said. “Once it gets down to a certain temperature, mag chloride is not as effective unless you put out mass quantities of it, and we can’t do that because of the expense.”
The Aspen City Council recently decided to discontinue use of the substance for the rest of the winter season and directed the local streets department to make use of sand, gravel and plowing. The decision was based on evidence that use of mag chloride harms the environment, including roadside trees and water supplies.
Lee Cassin of the Aspen environmental health department said mag chloride contains high levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and chromium, which have all been linked to increases in cancer. Although increased use of sand or gravel on the streets could become ground into dust that forms a brown cloud called PM-10, Cassin said the city is careful to sweep up excess gravel when the ground is dry.
“Another important thing for people to know is that a big percentage that contributes to PM-10s comes from people pulling over onto the shoulder, driving through alleys or driving on construction sites,” she said. “That makes clean-up doubly important. We still have to have clean streets.”
Roaring Fork Transit Agency supervisor Mitch Redfern said the loss of mag chloride in the city hasn’t been a problem for RFTA bus operators.
“Our buses are heavy enough that they have really good traction in most conditions,” he said. “Obviously it’s slick out at times, but our drivers are pretty good about it. I think the biggest problem is people in rental cars who aren’t prepared for the weather and don’t know how to drive in it.”