Crashes along the roughly 18-mile stretch of the Interstate 25 South “Gap” between Monument and Castle Rock have fallen slightly in the project’s third year, but the dip isn’t necessarily related to a decrease in traffic volume during the pandemic, officials said.
The total number of crashes along the $350 million widening project — including those that caused injury, death or that damaged property but did not result in death or injury — decreased by about 15% from Sept. 1, 2019 to Aug. 31, 2020, data from Colorado State Patrol show.
There were 889 crashes that caused property damage in that time, compared to 1,024 crashes during that same 12-month period from 2018 to 2019, data show — a decrease of about 13%. Nearly half of all such crashes occurred between September and December 2019.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, State Patrol was placed on statewide accident alert status from March 26 to April 27, 2020. During that time, officers did not respond to traffic crashes where no injuries occurred, when there was no suspected impairment and when all parties had insurance.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said he couldn’t say specifically why crashes decreased last year. He speculated it could be a combination of less traffic volume because of the pandemic, enhanced safety efforts and drivers taking better precautions or being more familiar with the maze of lane shifts and Jersey walls.
“I think it’s a totality of a lot of things,” Lewis said. “As people drive this area, they become more familiar with it. We’ve had more officers in the area, combined with all (the Colorado Department of Transportation) has done to enhance safety.”
Tamara Rollison, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Transportation, said the project team has taken several steps to boost safety along the “Gap,” a key reason for the project since the beginning.
Steps include reducing speed limits according to road and weather conditions, using portable speed limit signs, and adding additional message boards and a warning system that can detect when trucks are entering and exiting the work zone, Rollison said. The department also implemented a Project Operations Center where the team can monitor cameras so State Patrol can quickly respond to crashes. The Operations Center has helped reduce incident response times from 40 to 20 minutes, according to a news release from the agency.
“Reducing the time it takes to clear incidents will reduce overall crashes because you reduce the risk of secondary crashes that can occur while the first is being cleaned up,” Rollison said.
Crews completed major construction in the northern section of the project between Plum Creek Parkway in Castle Rock and Sky View Lane/Tomah Road last fall, agency spokesman Bob Wilson said via email. “This resulted in wider travel lanes and extra wide shoulders, which helps improve the driving experience for motorists and with emergency response,” he said.
Crews broke ground on the project after Labor Day in 2018. It is on budget and scheduled to be completed in 2022, Rollison said. When completed, the “Gap” will have six lanes — the existing four lanes plus one new toll lane in each direction. The tolls have been a sore point with some local residents and officials, who objected to what they claimed amounted to double taxation since local taxes helped fund the project.
Data show the number of injury and fatal crashes along the “Gap” also fell from Sept. 1, 2019 to Aug. 31, 2020. During that time, there were 52 injury crashes and one fatal crash along this stretch of highway, down from 87 and two, respectively, reported from Sept. 1, 2018 through Aug. 31, 2019.
Coloradans spent less time on roads statewide last year because of the pandemic, the Colorado Department of Transportation said last month, estimating an 11% statewide decline in miles driven in 2020. But reduced driving didn’t necessarily lead to a reduced number of crashes, State Patrol said.
“Unfortunately crashes on a statewide level did not go down as we hoped,” Lewis said.
Data released from the Colorado Department of Transportation in January show more than 600 people died on Colorado streets last year.
“Even when stay-at-home orders caused decreased traffic on roads throughout the state, there were still more crashes than there should have been statewide,” Rollison said.
Distracted driving and following too closely are the largest reasons for crashes along the “Gap,” Lewis said.
“When you’re too close to the car in front of you, it’s a recipe for disaster,” he said. “… That means a lot less of an ability to react.”
Transportation and safety officials urged motorists to pay attention and follow speed limits when driving through the construction zone. Rollison encouraged travelers to avoid driving through the area if possible during inclement weather.
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