Smith Way is still a killer |

Smith Way is still a killer

Nothing frustrates me more than government inaction and bureaucracy. So you might guess that I’m frustrated most of the time. I shook my head in disbelief Wednesday upon reading the front-page article in The Aspen Times on April 11 regarding the boondoggle at the intersection of Smith Way and Highway 82 (“Light on ideas?”).This issue has been an issue for nearly a decade, yet nothing has been done. And while state officials insist that there’s no money to fix the dangerous intersection and Pitkin County officials scratch their heads trying to figure out what to do, motorists continue to die and get seriously injured. It’s been that way since at least 1997, when I started covering the issue as a reporter. I have written dozens of articles and commentaries about this intersection, both covering accidents and questioning CDOT officials on why the roadway doesn’t get the attention it requires.Officials have acknowledged that something needs to be done. It’s just that they can’t get it together. Pitkin County commissioners are now facing the decision of whether to approve putting a stoplight there. It’s the only option since CDOT will only fund an improvement in the form of a stoplight, under some bureaucratic grant titled “special hazard reduction.” The alternative is to resubmit an already overstudied plan and wait for state funding, which could take years. I think we’ve waited long enough. Put a light there and get on with it. The following is a column I wrote in the fall of 2000, pleading with officials to do something at Smith Way. Since then, nothing has happened, and as a result, many more accidents have occurred. The blood of those victims is on the hands of these bureaucrats who have done nothing to make our highway safe.November 2000 – Snowmass Sun”As a taxpayer, I don’t think it is asking too much to be able to drive on a safe highway. I’m talking about the intersection at Smith Hill Road and Highway 82. If I could have anything this Christmas, I would want the Colorado Department of Transportation to make that intersection safe. The engineers over there know it’s unsafe, yet they won’t do anything about it because they say there isn’t enough money to fix it.We all know the state has the cash, but the state’s transportation board allocated most of the money to other places, most likely the Front Range. Apparently safety on all of the state’s highways isn’t the first priority for CDOT.CDOT officials have conducted numerous safety inspections and determined improvements are needed because it was in fact unsafe. But in March 2000, it was decided that it wasn’t ‘cost effective’ to fix it.’It’s a cost benefit thing,’ Jim Nall, CDOT’s traffic safety engineer for Highway 82, told me in March 2000. ‘We have limited funds for safety improvements … We look for the greatest return and our needs exceed our funds.’I’ve covered several of the accidents and each time I thought what a shame it was because they could have been prevented. And local law enforcement agrees. I’ve quoted many sheriffs’ deputies saying something has to be done about it. It’s so obvious how unsafe it is that you can only think CDOT is blatantly ignoring it.And through it all, CDOT officials continue to spew rhetoric about how they were conducting ‘studies’ and writing ‘reports’ to determine whether it’s an unsafe intersection. Meanwhile people continue to get seriously injured, or even die. Just how much evidence do you need to know it’s unsafe? I think nearly three dozen accidents in two years is pretty compelling evidence.But apparently that isn’t enough. So now the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office has joined me in the crusade of trying to persuade CDOT to understand how unsafe it really is. Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Michael Kendrick has just released the findings from a report he conducted about the accident rate at the intersection. What he found was 28 crashes have occurred there in the past two years. Fourteen of them were injury accidents, resulting in four deaths on New Year’s Eve 1999 and injuries to 38 people.The intersection hasn’t always been this way. It only became unsafe after CDOT four-laned that section of highway. It’s pretty clear that the engineers designed it wrong. People crossing the downvalley lanes to go upvalley from Woody Creek must cross Highway 82, battling vehicles traveling 70 mph down a straightaway. Many of the accidents occurred by the downvalley bound car slamming into the vehicle attempting to cross Highway 82 from the Woody Creek Canyon.Vehicles turning left on Highway 82 to go upvalley must do so without knowing how far away oncoming traffic is because minimal sight lines make it difficult to gauge the distance of oncoming cars. Then, they must accelerate in the fast lane when oncoming traffic is traveling up to 70 mph on a two-lane straightaway.At the very least CDOT needs to install a flashing light with a big yellow sign indicating that cars are crossing the highway. If the sign were placed between the intersection and the Brush Creek light, at least drivers would be aware and hopefully be cautious when approaching. And to address the upvalley sight line issue, CDOT again at the very least, needs to build an acceleration lane, so drivers pulling out don’t run the risk of being bulldozed by cars they can’t even see until it’s too late.”And now, in 2007, the question is should we put a stoplight there. Absolutely. It might be a pain in the ass to have yet another stop light on Highway 82 but I would argue getting banged up by an oncoming vehicle is worse than the alternative.”Questions, comments, concerns? E-mail to

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