Few events on any given day in Colorado are more dangerous than a trip through The Gap on I-25. The state Department of Transportation, the State Patrol, and all drivers should do more to enhance safety through the 17-mile stretch between Monument and Castle Rock.
The State Patrol this week reports a 60% increase in crashes since the start of the $350 million widening project that began in the summer of 2018. The 82 crashes that caused bodily injury last year represent a 19% increase over the 69 during the year before construction began.
State officials anticipate completion in 2022, with the opening of a toll lane in each direction for drivers to buy their way out of congestion.
In the meantime, motorists white knuckle their way through narrow curves with concrete Jersey walls on each side that leave little-to-no shoulder room for traffic stops, broken-down cars or collision avoidance. Long sections of pavement are cratered with potholes and surprisingly deep gouges caused by removal of white lines for lane shifts. Occasional episodes of snow and ice exacerbate the danger.
“I drove through there this weekend, and it is tight,” said State Patrol Chief Col. Matthew Packard. “Small errors in there have big consequences. There is very little room for error.”
We cannot be thankful enough for the men and women who risk their lives daily to improve this highway, or the law enforcement personnel who are trying to keep it safe. Nothing is easy about keeping a freeway open while trying to rebuild it.
For evidence of extraordinary work by the State Patrol, look no further than the agency’s swift action upon receiving a report of two drivers racing through The Gap last Thursday. One suspect is Denver Sheriff’s Deputy James Grimes, who reportedly was racing a pickup at 90 mph while transporting jail inmates in a department van. State Patrol aircraft pilots monitored the vehicles and gave officers on the ground the information they needed to locate and stop the drivers.
They arrested the pickup driver on charges of driving under the influence and cited Grimes with speeding 40 mph or more over the speed limit in a construction zone, reckless driving and three counts of reckless endangerment. If convicted, Grimes should be fired.
“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.
The Colorado Department of Transportation should lower the highest speed limits in The Gap from 60 mph to 50 mph, and the State Patrol should strictly enforce it. The substantial rise in crashes proves 60 mph is too fast for the conditions.
“Certainly, lower speeds would reduce the likelihood of serious injury,” Packard told us.
“We don’t set the speed limit, we only enforce it,” White said. “But I can tell you that higher speeds exponentially increase the severity of collisions.”
Along with lowering the speed, CDOT signs should warn of additional enforcement and of the substantial fines for speeding in a construction zone. The agency should consider increasing extra resources it provides the State Patrol for enforcement through The Gap.
Drivers can do the most to improve safety. The State Patrol reports that most of the collisions involve drivers rear-ending cars when traffic suddenly slows. Rear-end crashes don’t happen unless someone follows too closely.
The Gap will be a treacherous ride for at least the next two years. Enhancing safety should be our highest priority. Lower speeds, intense law enforcement and greater distances between cars would save property and lives.
The Gazette Editorial Board