JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — A detour promising to save drivers time from sitting in Interstate 70 mountain traffic could actually be putting hundreds of people at risk each weekend.
The road in question is Douglas Mountain Drive, which connects Highway 119 and Golden Gate Canyon Road.
“When the road’s not bad, like this, it’s not too much of a problem. But it’s still an unpaved mountain road,” Golden Gate Fire Protection District Chief Damian Difeo said.
He said the road is typically void of traffic. However, over the past two months, “there’s hundreds of cars on a Saturday morning coming down this road.”
Difeo believes navigation apps like Google Maps are now suggesting Douglas Mountain Drive to drivers as an alternate route when I-70 has heavy backups or is closed due to weather.
“They don’t have a clue about what road they’re about to get on. They’re just following their navigation system that says hey, go this way. By the time they realize what type of road they’re on, it’s too late. You can’t turn around on this type of road,” he said.
The 6.7-mile stretch of roadway is partially unpaved and has numerous hairpin turns, steep grades and sections atop 300-foot cliffs without guard rails.
“If somebody goes off the side of this road, it’s most likely not going to be survivable,” he said. “People have been hanging just one wheel off the side of the road or the front of the car, so it’s been close.”
Difeo said his crews have already responded to multiple accidents and close calls during snow events. The department’s firetruck was hit once too.
“There was at least 20, 30 vehicles off the road, sideways in the road, crashed into each other,” he said of a recent bad weather day.
He is now trying to contact Google Maps and other navigation services to stop them from rerouting traffic onto a road that is not built to handle it.
In the meantime, Difeo is warning drivers: If main roads are not an option, neither is Douglas Mountain Drive.
“I don’t want to have to be pulling a family with kids out of a car at the bottom of this canyon because they tried to save half an hour to go skiing,” Difio said.