JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — In Jefferson and Park Counties, calls are growing to improve safety on U.S. 285 following last week’s deadly crash.
More than 300 people reached out to the Problem Solvers with questions, comments and concerns regarding safety issues on the stretch of road between Morrison and Fairplay. The majority of the concerns focused on areas near Conifer, Pine and Bailey.
“I think it is a very difficult mountain road that has become busy because it’s the only other alternate route out of the Denver metro area to get to the mountains,” Bailey resident Bill Bruner told FOX31.
Each fatal crash on US 285 ‘hurts my soul’
Bruner is the co-chair of the 285 Tourism board. He said back in 2015, discussions came up about potential safety hazards of increasing tourism on the roadway.
“Everybody who was at the tourism meeting said there’s nothing that can be done about 285 and I said, ‘What? There’s always something that can be done,’” Bruner recalled
That led Bruner to form a new committee specifically looking at safety improvements along the corridor. The group is made up of local leaders, county commissioners, chamber of commerce members, state lawmakers, representatives for Colorado’s U.S. Senators and CDOT. One of their four meetings per year was held three days prior to Thursday’s fatal accident.
“I was extremely sad. Every time I read about someone dying on 285, period, but especially in that particular area, it hurts my soul,” Bruner said.
However, he believes the infrastructure of U.S. 285 did not cause the accident. According to police, Benjamin Bobier crossed the double yellow center lines in an attempt to pass traffic and ended up hitting — head-on — the vehicle 2-year-old Jordan Snell and 55-year-old Diana Snell were traveling in. The three of them did not survive.
“You can’t configure or make a road safe for someone whose behavior is like that,” Bruner said.
US 285 improvements eyed for more than a decade
However, CDOT has been eying safety improvements on U.S. 285 for more than a decade. In 2004, a study of the area recommended widening the highway to four lanes from Conifer to Fairplay.
“The average driver’s ability to safely navigate U.S. 285 is compromised by high traffic volumes combined with inconsistent lane configurations, deficient roadway geometry, mountainous terrain, speed zone variations, winter weather conditions and frequent access points,” the study found.
It noted that U.S. 285 was unable to handle the traffic volume back in 2004, and the stretch was already seeing accident rates 50-80% higher than the statewide average.
“But they’ve never had the money to do the rest of it and it really fell off the radar since 2006,” Bruner said.
While the widening plan is not currently in the works, CDOT says it is prioritizing the redevelopment of the intersection at Kings Valley Drive. If funding becomes available, construction will begin in the fall of 2023.
“It’s almost every weekend that there’s something happening at King’s Valley,” Bruner said. “A lot of the fatalities that have happened at Kings Valley is because of that left-hand turn.”
Following the completion of Kings Valley interchange, CDOT has identified four more spots where intersections need to be rebuilt to enhance safety.
“I think the only way to deal with this is to be optimistic, to find common ground and to find ways forward. Not to blame, not to be upset but to move straight forward and to find ways that we can make this safer,” Bruner said.