Crashes have skyrocketed as the Interstate 25 'Gap' from Monument to Castle Rock has been transformed into an 18-mile obstacle course of lane shifts and Jersey walls.
Since construction began on a $350 million widening, crashes that damaged property but didn't result in injury or death are up about 60%, according to data from Colorado State Patrol.
From Sept. 1, 2018, to the end of 2019, there were 1,506 such crashes on the stretch, compared with 939 crashes during the same 16-month period from 2016-17, the data show.
State transportation officials aren't surprised.
"You are driving through a work zone — a construction work zone in a place that has had a problem with a high rate of crashes to begin with, particularly with rear-end crashes," said Tamara Rollison, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. "We have instituted a number of safety measures for this."
Crews broke ground on the project after Labor Day in 2018, and it's expected to be completed in 2022, according to CDOT. When it's done, the Gap will have six lanes — the existing four plus a toll lane in each direction that some residents and public officials have decried as double taxation since local money is already helping pay for the widening.
While the roadway has seen a meteoric rise in crashes that cause property damage, there's been little change in the numbers of collisions that hurt or killed people. There were two fatal crashes and 82 injury crashes in 2019. In 2017, there were three crashes in which people died and 69 that caused injuries.
Even before construction began, property damage crashes in the Gap had been steadily increasing since 2014. There were 791 from September 2014 through the end of 2015, according to the state patrol.
"A key reason for the project is to improve safety because that has been a serious problem with the Gap all along," Rollison said.
Shoulders are slimmer and curves are sharper now that crews are at work. Lane shifts have intensified on the middle portion of the Gap, from Greenland Road to Sky View Lane, as construction ramps up on three bridges and a wildlife crossing, Rollison said.
"Right now, we're really in the thick of it because of all the major bridge construction we're doing," she said. "You’re remodeling your house, but you have to live in it too. We have to do this major construction on the roadway, while at the same time we have to continue to operate it so that traffic can continue to use it."
Many of the recent collisions have been caused by drivers following other vehicles too closely. More than two-thirds of accidents in the Gap are rear-end crashes, Rollison said.
"What I can’t stress enough, when you’re driving through the Gap, is to leave ample space between your vehicle and the one ahead," she said.
State officials say they've taken steps to reduce the risk of crashes on the stretch.
The speed limit in the Gap has dropped to a maximum of 60 mph. Electronic signs allow that limit to be lowered further depending on traffic and other circumstances.
Marquees warn drivers of congestion and other adverse conditions ahead, Rollison said.
Transportation officials regularly meet with first responders from local police and fire agencies along the corridor, and the state has heightened the state patrol’s presence in the area.
"On average, we're providing at least an additional trooper just for that stretch of roadway. And if we can, we'll provide more than that," said state patrol Sgt. Blake White. "We know that there’s less margin for error. There’s no shoulders in areas. There’s tighter lanes. People aren’t driving cautiously enough for that area, and that’s really what’s leading to these crashes."
He advised drivers to abide the speed limit and pay attention.
"If somebody slams on their brakes, you have nowhere to go," he said. "You’ve got to slow down and just drive patiently and cautiously. It really is as simple as that."