Morning commute: snow, ice and accidents |

Morning commute: snow, ice and accidents

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Commuters heading upvalley to Aspen on Thursday morning were greeted with one of the worst traffic jams of the winter, thanks, at least in part, to a bus mishap on Cemetery Lane that blocked motorists on McLain Flats Road.

Commuters reported it taking as long as an hour to get from the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport into town.

Radio station KAJX broadcast a report shortly before 9 a.m. about a bus being stuck on the steep grade on Cemetery Lane, uphill from Red Butte Drive, and advising motorists not to take McLain Flats Road into Aspen.

According to Aspen Police Officer Dave Paschal, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus was heading downhill toward Red Butte Drive at approximately 8 a.m. when it lost traction on the icy road and slid into a snowbank.

A short time later, Paschal said, a Range Rover tried to pass the bus but slid into it, “effectively blocking both lanes.”

The road was blocked for about an hour before a sand truck could get in and treat the road surface, allowing the bus and other traffic to move. Paschal said neither the bus nor the Range Rover sustained serious damage in the incident.

But the flow of traffic took a significant hit, as cars backed up on McLain Flats Road and Cemetery Lane before the McLain Flats traffic was turned around and rerouted back to Highway 82.

Nancy Bobrow, an Aspen Times employee and regular downvalley commuter, had driven to the Aspen Business Center to pick up a co-worker at 7:50 a.m. and intended to head straight into town.

But seeing that traffic already was “backed up past the airport,” she said, “I turned the other way and went down to go over McLain Flats,” a popular alternate route into Aspen.

Motorists heading upvalley on Highway 82 can turn left onto Smith Hill Way, cross over the Roaring Fork River and head across the mesa known as McLain Flats, to rejoin Highway 82 at the Cemetery Lane stoplight at the western entrance to town.

Bobrow said she made it as far as the junction of McLain Flats Road and the Sunnyside Trail, at the eastern end of McLain Flats, when traffic stopped dead.

“I sat there for 20 minutes, then turned around to go back to the highway,” she reported, noting that she “passed a mile and a half of cars” on the way back over McLain Flats to get on the highway again.

From the highway, a long line of cars was visible coming down off McLain Flats toward the Smith Hill Way bridge.

Caught in a traffic jam that began a couple of hundred yards downvalley from the Aspen Business Center traffic light, Bobrow said she and her passenger ultimately got to the office at about 9:15 a.m.

There were several other accidents and traffic snarls in the upper valley Thursday, although no injuries were reported and none of the accidents resulted in serious damage.

According to Patrol Director Jeff Lumsden of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, two cars stalled on Highway 82 in the approach to the city, causing additional delays and backups on top of the usual jams.

Plus, Lumsden said, a passenger car rolled over on Brush Creek Road shortly before 8 a.m., though none of the three passengers were injured. Colorado State Patrol Trooper Brad Latchaw said the car was heading upvalley toward Snowmass Village when it spun out of control and went off the road, doing a three-quarter roll before coming to rest on the passenger side. The driver, whose name was not available, was ticketed for careless driving and not having a valid driver’s license.

On Smith Hill Way, a car slid off the roadway. But again, no one was injured and no ticket was issued.

Paschal noted that there were numerous minor accidents reported around town in the morning, but no injuries or serious damage.

Colorado State Patrol Capt. Rich Duran, referring to downvalley traffic accidents on Thursday, said, “As a matter of fact, it’s been pretty decent for us down here.” He said there was an accident called in on Garfield County Road 100 near Carbondale, but the vehicles had already left by the time a trooper got to the scene.

A trooper also responded to the rollover on Brush Creek Road, he said, but because there were no injuries and no serious damage there is scant information available.

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