BAILEY, Colo. (KDVR) — After a semitruck driver lost control of their vehicle last Monday and flipped a massive earth mover machine into the North Fork South Platte River, many locals in Bailey were saying, “not again.”
The crash happened around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 29 and resulted in the death of a 37-year-old woman from Clovis, New Mexico. She was the passenger in the big rig that lost control coming down Crow Hill into Bailey. The 38-year-old driver was airlifted in serious condition to St. Anthony’s hospital in Lakewood.
“We all feel that way. Not again. You know, it feels like it happens all the time,” Tim Gregg, the director of development for the Platte Canyon Area Chamber of Commerce said.
Gregg says crash data he compiled from the Colorado Department of Transportation website shows 72 traffic incidents at mile marker 222 along Highway 285 between 2007 and 2020.
“This curve is extremely dangerous. It’s more than a 90-degree turn. It’s about 120 degrees at the bottom of two miles of a very steep grade. And for 18-wheelers, in particular, it’s difficult, difficult for them to maneuver and they burn up their brakes all the time,” Gregg said.
The speed limit at the top of Crow Hill is 50 mph. It slows to 40 mph as Highway 285 winds downward but at the bottom where there’s a flashing sign with a posted speed limit of 35 mph, locals say it’s too late for truckers if they haven’t shifted to a lower gear. The roadway bends 120 degrees in just 1,300 feet.
“I would love to see a truck ramp. If we can’t get a truck ramp or until we get a truck ramp, we need better signage at the top of Crow Hill instructing truckers to use whatever the lower gear is and to lower the speed limit all the way down the hill,” Robb Green, president of the Platte Canyon Area Chamber of Commerce said.
“I was the resident engineer up there for the better part of a decade. So I’m very familiar with this curve,” Stephen Harelson, the chief engineer for CDOT said.
Harelson told the Problem Solvers he doesn’t think a lower speed limit would help and said a runaway truck ramp, something the state considered 20 years ago, would now cost $5 million to $10 million.
“I don’t know that it’s cost prohibitive. It’s certainly feasible,” Harelson said, who added it would be more feasible to spend $1.3 million on a concrete guardrail and cable barriers at the bottom of Crow Hill.
“They’re designed so that a semitruck going 80 miles an hour can plow into them at 15 degree, you know, 15 degree angle and bounce off,” Harelson said.
Such a barrier could’ve made a huge difference in 2016 when an 18-wheeler lost control and plowed through the Aspen Peak Cellars winery in the middle of the night when, fortunately, the building was empty.
“I don’t think anybody would have come out alive. We could have killed 50, 60 people, you know,” winery owner Marcel Flukiger said. He said if he were grading the curve on a scale would say, “On a one to 10, probably a 10.”
Flukiger told FOX31 he doesn’t want to have to rebuild his winery again.
“We don’t want to see any more news stories about things happening in Bailey. We want to see some action of how it’s going to get fixed,” Flukiger said.
Harelson told the Problem Solvers installing the concrete guardrail on the river side of Highway 285 and a cable net barrier in the median only takes about a month but admits construction isn’t likely to start for another year because of CDOT’s approval process.
Locals told FOX31 they don’t understand why it’s taken so long to get this far when traffic studies go back 20 years. They’d still like to see flashing warning signs at the top of Crow Hill and if possible, a runaway truck ramp.