FORT COLLINS, Colo. (KDVR) – Three people have died and dozens more have suffered injuries while driving in construction zones designed to make the stretch of Interstate 25 between Mead and Fort Collins safer for all.

These alarming statistics hit home for the Quillen family from Bailey. 

Year after year, there is something about the pictures of Wesley Quillen that turns any day around for his father, David.

“He’s got that huge smile on his face, it’s like it was always there,” Quillen said. 

He and his wife now mourn their son Wesley, who was 20 years old when he died.

“It’s something you never think,” he said. “Sunday morning, 7 a.m. the doorbell is going off. No one ever comes to our house.”

On Jan. 30, 2022, the family got a knock on their door.

“They come in, they say ‘your son was killed in a car accident early this morning, here’s a folder with the information you need. Here’s the contact information for the coroner’s office. Sorry for your loss,'” Quillen explained.

Wesley, a third-year student at Colorado State University died on his way back to school. He was driving on I-25 and was five miles away from home when he crashed.

“He said the road turned he didn’t, that’s what state patrol told me,” Quillen said. “I didn’t like that comment. The road turning. He didn’t. The road turns very abruptly. They’re not gradual transitions. They go sharp left and sharp right and that doesn’t make sense.”

Colorado State Patrol’s accident report, obtained by FOX31, includes a diagram showing where Wesley hit a jersey barrier, which sent his car rolling across the construction zone and ejecting him in the process. There was no alcohol detected in his autopsy report. 

How dangerous is this area of highway?

The Colorado Department of Transportation said that Wesley is one of three people who have died so far this year on that 26-mile stretch of interstate between Mead and Fort Collins.

Records obtained by the FOX31 Problem Solvers show that there were 293 crashes and 85 injury crashes from January through September of this year. Data from the Colorado Department of Safety also revealed that there were two deadly crashes in 2021 and three in 2019 on that stretch of I-25.

Complaints submitted to CDOT from truck drivers and motorists in 2022 included comments like:

  • “There needs to be a better turn to make it less tight”
  • “Dangerous level changes on bridge transition”
  • “Please give travelers better signs”

FOX31 spoke with a CDOT representative to get some answers, including whether or not these crashes were leading to changes in these construction zones.

Q & A with CDOT concerning construction zone safety

Both projects are designed to improve safety as stated in the website’s project descriptions, but data reveals several injury crashes so far this year as indicated in this CORA response at end of September: 293 crashes, 85 injury crashes, and three fatals. Does CDOT have a response to this?

Safety is absolutely a top priority and a key component of the projects that are under construction on I-25. Improvements to bridges, pavement, lighting, signing/striping, wider shoulders, and enhanced bike/ped options/facilities, will all provide upgraded safety components. 

Because these projects are not complete and in an interim (under construction) status, the existing alignments and dimensions during construction are not the final alignments and dimensions travelers will see upon completion.

Has crash data or complaints prompted any changes in how projects have been conducted? 

After every crash, the project team looks at the traffic conditions, signing and striping, weather and other circumstances to better understand the contributing causes of the crashes.  When we identify factors within our control, we make changes. We also have a large team of both owners and contractors who drive the project constantly; when anyone notices driving directions that are unsafe or unclear we take proactive steps to provide a safer and smoother drive through the project. 

Some examples of that include: changing the solar temporary lighting to electric lighting, filling potholes (multiple times each week), refreshing striping, removing confusing signing and striping, adding additional signing and providing variable message boards to provide better and more concise communication, and building emergency pullout areas throughout the project’s length.

Truck drivers and accident victims tell us they feel the jersey barriers are very abrupt in certain areas (currently in the southbound I-25 lanes near Windsor) and with poor lighting, it’s a huge safety concern. What do you say to this? What goes into deciding how sharp of a turn you can do on two lanes with jersey barriers? 

Regarding the lane design, traffic shifts, and jersey barriers, all of the temporary alignment shifts, crossovers and detour pavement are designed to meet all engineering requirements based on the posted speeds. 

As is common on construction projects where travel remains open, we have had a variety of over-width, over-length and over-height restrictions since the project began in 2018.  Currently, we have an over-length restriction of 100 feet and an over-width restriction of 11 feet for SB and an over-width restriction of 11′ for NB.  Note that we have typically received pushback to relax our restrictions, and there are some trucks that do not abide by the restrictions. 

The ‘sharpest curve’ we did have on the project was just south of US 34 – this curve was eliminated earlier in October and we will be moving the crossover further North in order to begin building the permanent pavements in the SB direction near US 34.

The jersey barrier is in place to protect the traveling public as well as the workers who are completing the work.  There are standard lane widths throughout the project and minimum of 2-foot wide shoulders on each side. While the final roadway will have full-width shoulders (12′) and more relaxed curves, the temporary alignments are necessary in order to be able to construct the project–and again, they meet engineering standards throughout.  We provide nighttime lighting at ramps, emergency pull-off areas and crossovers.  

Is that change in barriers you mentioned due to the part of the project being complete? What is the cause? 

The temporary concrete barrier serves two safety purposes: 1) It keeps vehicles from entering into the work zone and hitting hazards or equipment, materials or other immovable objects, and 2) It protects the workers from errant vehicles or parts of vehicles that could enter the work zone and cause injury.

This barrier is temporarily set up during construction and is removed once work is complete; this is a standard practice that is critical to safely construct the new road while allowing vehicles to use I-25 simultaneously.

Are there considerations of making speed limits lower in the areas where/when deep turns are made with jersey barriers? What goes into deciding the speed limit?

Regarding speed limits, we have implemented Variable Speed Limit monitors which can change the regulated speed limit on the fly to match the field conditions. It is important to note that just because a speed limit is set, not everyone follows it.

Indeed, I expect the details of the crash data you may have gathered from law enforcement underscores this point. In general, the main problem regarding speed is the speed differential between motorists, and this differential in speeds is what causes crashes.

How often has speed been changed on both projects?    

CDOT does not track how often we change speed limits, as it happens frequently and is based on actual field conditions. Things like temporary alignments, crossovers, narrow shoulders, and construction activities that may divert drivers’ attention cause us to lower the speed limit as a precaution. 

When little to no construction is occurring and we have relatively straight roadways with wide shoulders and no drop-offs, the speed limit is raised. Currently, both projects have variable speed limit devices that are capable of changing the speed limit remotely based on the field conditions.

How are people alerted about oncoming jersey barrier curves and shifts?  

Through advance warning signage, striping, variable message boards, chevrons, and reflectors – both on top of the actual barrier and extremely reflectorized ‘waffle strips’ on the sides of the barrier when the shoulder is 4′ or less.  There is also a robust public information outreach program on both projects which alerts the public to upcoming work, closures, detours and changes in traffic patterns and alignments.  There is an email to subscribers that goes out weekly on Fridays – there are supplemental emails, press releases, open houses, public meetings and other correspondence which occur when we identify critical items to communicate.

How are truckers informed of the length and width restrictions?  

Truckers go through CDOT’s freight office in order to get oversize permits, both for this section of I-25 and for any travel through Colorado. They are alerted to any closures or restrictions based on their particular widths, lengths, heights and any hour restrictions based on their intended route.

What do you suggest drivers can to do be safer in these zones?

As for what we need drivers to remember, those messages that we repeat constantly – and that you see on signs ahead of every construction project – are repeated because they are so important for safety. Pay attention and be ready for changing conditions, obey speed limits, and avoid distractions that can be especially problematic in work zones. The safety of every traveler and worker building the project depends on it.

What others are saying about the construction zone

Truckers and the Colorado State Patrol told FOX31 drivers are a big part of the issue in these construction zones.

“Driving too close is a huge problem, you go out there on the road and you will notice people follow way too close and honestly, people think that’s fine,” CSP Sgt. Troy Kessler said. “People need to allow a lot more space than they realize.”

Quillen hopes people think about his son’s early death and slow down next time they go through these zones.

“Hopefully this will get the word out, even if CDOT doesn’t do anything about it,” Quillen said. “If people see the story and it’s in their mind, slow down.”

The several-year construction projects are expected to wrap in 2024.