New law, higher fines, same trucks on Independence Pass
Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Alex Burchetta was heading up Independence Pass on Thursday looking for a semi-truck illegally using the road when he came around a curve to find a man in a green shirt running toward him.
“He was out in front (of the truck) stopping the oncoming traffic so (the driver) could get through the narrows,” said Burchetta, the director of operations for the Sheriff’s Office. “(The driver) was really struggling to make his way down.”
The truck was hauling another truck on a flatbed and was about 50 feet long, Burchetta said. Trucks longer than 35 feet are not allowed on the Pass.
Burchetta escorted the truck to Weller Campground, where he wrote the driver a $1,150 ticket, and then had to call another deputy to stop traffic below the lower narrows section so the truck could pass through.
“The guy said he never saw the signs (prohibiting trucks longer than 35 feet),” Burchetta said. “He was heading for Utah.”
The Colorado Legislature passed a law in the spring of 2014 increasing the fine for large trucks on the pass from $500 to $1,000 to try and curb the practice. The extra $150 is a processing fee.
Signs are posted both on the Lake County side near Twin Lakes and on the Aspen side warning drivers that vehicles longer than 35 feet are prohibited.
Last year, Pitkin County deputies ticketed five vehicles for violating the law, said Charles Matthews, records manager for the Sheriff’s Office. Counting Thursday’s errant semi-truck and another one Wednesday, deputies have already handed out seven tickets this year, he said.
And while that may seem like the new law isn’t deterring truckers, Burchetta said he thinks the number of reports of large trucks using Independence Pass is less than in recent years. A combination of the increased fine and a public education campaign is having a deterrent effect, he said.
As part of that campaign, Burchetta said he did interviews on Sirius satellite radio, which is popular with truckers, warning of the change.
Matthews said truckers using Independence Pass sometimes are motivated by the desire to save time, while others may blindly follow GPS coordinates into a sticky situation.
Despite Burchetta’s gut feeling about the new law, another deputy encountered a different semi-truck on the pass Wednesday that was between 65 and 70 feet long and 11 feet wide. While he was dealing with that truck, another semi came up behind it, Burchetta said.
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