Officials eye ways to keep trucks off Independence Pass

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
A semi-truck gets stuck as it tries to turn around Wednesday near the closure gate on Independence Pass. Truckers and other motorists have been heading toward Aspen since Tuesday seeking an alternative route to the Glenwood Canyon closure without realizing the pass is closed during winter months. Police estimate "hundreds" of cars and trucks have been turned away this week.
Ryan Leland/Special to The Aspen Times |

In an effort to deter semi-trucks from illegally using Highway 82 over Independence Pass, the Colorado Legislature doubled the fine from $500 to $1,000 in 2014.

“This has not worked,” said Karin Teague, executive director of the Independence Pass Foundation. “There is no evidence in any decline of 35 (foot)-plus vehicles traveling over the pass.”

However, Teague and officials from Pitkin County and the Colorado Department of Transportation are batting around three ideas that aim to further drive home the message that semi-trucks and other vehicles more than 35 feet long cannot and should not use Highway 82 east of Aspen.

“They can’t navigate the tight turns,” Teague said. “There’s the potential for a really horrible accident.”

Teague said she’s up on the pass nearly every day in the summer and fall. And nearly every day she said she sees a vehicle more than 35 feet long attempting to drive the narrow, switchbacking road. And the rockslide that closed Glenwood Canyon for weeks this winter only served to magnify the problem as drivers relied on incorrect information from GPS devices that directed them to Independence Pass, which is closed during winter.

Approximately 15 semi-trucks attempted to drive over the pass but were stopped at the gate during the Glenwood Canyon closure, Deputy Alex Burchetta of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

To combat that, Pitkin County officials are looking at building what is called a “chicane” in one of two spots below the winter closure gate, said Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director. A chicane is an artificially engineered horizontal curve in the road meant to slow down traffic, he said.

In this case, it would allow smaller vehicles to continue without much problem, Pettet said. However, drivers of large trucks would be confronted by a sign telling them it is illegal to continue and how much they’d be fined if they do. The trucks would be provided a place to turn around, he said.

Another option being studied by CDOT is the use of LIDAR, which stands for “light detection and ranging” and is often used in surveying. The technology uses a laser that can detect a vehicle’s length, Pettet said. Once it sees a vehicle more than 35 feet long, it would send a message to a sign posted up the road warning the truck driver to turn around, he said.

The county and CDOT are trying to figure out the cost of both options, Pettet told Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday. Officials plan to meet in mid-May to determine which option makes the most sense, Pettet said Wednesday.

There is no timeline to implement either of the options, though officials would like to have something in place by fall 2017, when the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs is scheduled to close and be replaced, Pettet said. Officials are worried that delays in Glenwood Springs might prompt truckers and other drivers of large vehicles coming from Aspen to try to find another way around, he said.

Several signs up and down Highway 82 currently warn drivers that Independence Pass is closed in winter and restricted to smaller vehicles. However, one of the main things that lead drivers of large vehicles to the pass are GPS devices that broadcast the wrong information, he said.

And that’s where Teague comes in.

She has taken on the task of contacting GPS companies to make sure they are providing accurate information. Teague said she’s learned that CDOT has been effective in contacting those companies to make sure they provide information about seasonal closures.

However, GPS devices do not feature information about vehicle restrictions on particular roads, Teague said.

“In (CDOT’s) experience, it is nearly impossible,” she said.

Nonetheless, Teague said she plans to pursue the option a bit further.


Professional dancers return to Aspen to perform in ‘The Nutcracker’

Roaring Fork Valley natives Emily Ridings and Nikki Ferry have come full circle when it comes to dance. Both studied dance with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) as kids, continued their training with other prominent schools, and now return this weekend, as ASFB presents “The Nutcracker” at Aspen District Theater.

See more