More troopers to patrol I-70 |

More troopers to patrol I-70

Nicole Formosa
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Sgt. Tim Maestas, with the Colorado State Patrol, checks the speed of vehicles traveling westbound out of Eisenhower Tunnel last May. (Mark Fox/Summit Daily)

FRISCO – By this spring, Colorado State Patrol’s invariably understaffed Troop 6B could swear in up to seven new troopers to help patrol hundreds of miles of roadway in Summit and Clear Creek counties.

The group should graduate from the academy in January and finish field training by the end of March, putting them on patrol by April, said Troop 6B Capt. Ron Prater.

“We’re really excited about this development,” said Prater, who’s been pushing for more troopers for a few years. “The additional staffing – we feel that it’s justified because of the nature of the I-70 corridor and the kinds of the calls we have here.”

Even though getting new troopers is nothing new – every six months headquarters allocates staff to the troop – the number of incoming officers is.

“Instead of getting one or two or three, we’re getting seven,” Prater said.

Prater said the additional troopers should put 6B “back to where it should be” in terms of staffing. He hopes that more manpower will allow him to double up some of the shifts. Instead of eking by with one trooper, per shift, per county on duty, four troopers between both counties could be on the road at the same time.

That means stretches of roadway like Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge, Highway 40 in Clear Creek County and Highway 9 north of Silverthorne will get more attention than in the past.

“We’re hoping we’ll be able to hit some of these areas where we have a lot of drivers out of control,” Prater said.

As it stands, troopers concentrate mostly on the portion of Interstate 70 that runs through Clear Creek and Summit counties. CSP has designated a six-mile stretch of the interstate near the Eisenhower Tunnel a CSP-targeted safe zone – an area where resources are focused in an attempt to reduce the high number of accidents.

Prater credited Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, and state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Coal Creek Canyon, for helping to draw attention at the Capitol to Troop 6B’s ongoing staff shortage.

Last April, Gibbs wrote a letter to Gov. Bill Ritter pleading for more troopers to be assigned to the mountain counties to help enforce the chain law during the winter months. He also spoke with the director of the governor’s office of state planning and budgeting and members of the Joint Budget Committee about the issue.

Gibbs called the additional staffing great news for the mountain communities.

“It is clear that the governor acted and responded appropriately for the safety of travelers and for future enforcement of the new chain law,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs sponsored a beefed-up chain law last legislative session that will raise the fine for truckers who don’t chain up when restrictions are in place.

Along with the new law, the Department of Public Safety regulatory requirements now say semi-truck drivers must carry chains in their vehicles from Sept. 1 to May 1, which CSP will enforce.

Prater said the new chain law probably played a part in the increased trooper allotment, but chain law enforcement is only a small part of troopers’ daily duties.

While Prater recognized the importance a larger staff, he also acknowledged that all seven cadets may not make it through the academy and field training process. On two occasions in the past, Troop 6B was allocated five troopers, but only ended up with one to three because prospective troopers didn’t graduate.

Also, the new number doesn’t take into account existing staff that may resign or be transferred to another unit between now and April, Prater said.

CSP is a state agency that’s funded primarily through the Highway Users Tax Fund. It has long battled funding problems and troopers are stretched thin throughout the state.