Study shows accident rate at Smith Way high |

Study shows accident rate at Smith Way high

John Colson

The Smith Way intersection with Highway 82 has been the scene of 28 accidents in the past two years, according to a recent study.

Of those 28 crashes, 14 were “injury accidents,” resulting in four deaths on New Year’s Eve 1999, and injuries to 38 people. The accidents began in the spring of 1998, soon after the new lanes opened.

That junction, where Smith Way comes up from the upper Woody Creek bridge over the Roaring Fork River to meet the westbound lanes on the northern side of the road, has been cited by local law enforcement officials as exceptionally dangerous to motorists.

By comparison, that same intersection is shared by Juniper Hill Road, which comes down from the Brush Creek Village subdivision to the south of the highway. On that side of the intersection, there have been only three accidents in the same time frame, according to the study by Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Michael Kendrick. He said he was “shocked” by the accident rate.

Kendrick spent the past couple of weeks preparing the study of the intersection’s accident rate from Jan. 1, 1998 through Nov. 15, 2000, the date of the most recent serious accident there. The study, according to Kendrick’s report, was based on information from the Aspen/Pitkin County Communications Center, the Aspen Fire Department,

Aspen Ambulance, city and county records, and the sheriff’s department’s payroll records.

Kendrick’s report noted several “statistically significant findings” in the study: Over the 35-month course of the study, 43 percent of the crashes, 12 in all, have happened in the last 10-month period. 86 percent (24) of the crashes have been during daylight hours. 89 percent (25) of the crashes occurred on weekdays. Among the reported accidents, 13 brought local fire crews to the scene, and 20 required ambulances.

Kendrick also reported a “significant fall-off of these accidents between mid-November and spring each year.”

Based on interviews with drivers in some of the crashes, he reported that a common experience was that “their view of the other vehicle [involved in the crash] was obscured by a third vehicle (usually a dump truck) that was in the right-turn lanes of [west-bound] Highway 82.”

He noted that there is considerable dump truck traffic at the intersection, which is the main access point for the Elam Gravel Pit near Woody Creek. And, he noted, the truck traffic is most prevalent during weekdays and diminishes during the winter months.

Kendrick’s report recommends that CDOT move the west-bound right-turn lane a full lane’s width to the north, and set up a “dead lane where the view would be unobstructed” for drivers sitting at the Smith Way stop sign.

The report also reiterates a suggestion by Sheriff Bob Braudis that explicit warning signs be posted on the highway and on Smith Way.

Braudis has been worried about the intersection for two years, ever since it was opened as a four-lane, part of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s three-decade effort to widen the highway from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.

“I do believe the intersection can be made safer,” Braudis said, adding that he feels that particular spot is “fraught with potential for accidents.”

He has been in touch with this region’s CDOT chief, Ralph Trapani in Glenwood Springs, about making improvements to the intersection, and Trapani has put CDOT staffers to work on a report along the same lines as the one Kendrick produced.

Trapani said earlier this month that he recognized that there may be problems with the design of the intersection, or with the placement of directional and hazard signs. But, he said, CDOT engineers have already examined the intersection and came back with no recommendations for improvements.

That study was not available yet, according to Trapani’s office.

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