County roads safer today

Effort to curb accidents pays off as crews respond to high-risk areas

Construction was recently finished on the new bridge over the Grand Valley Canal on 29 1/2 Road. Upgrades to county roads such as the new bridge has led to a dramatic decrease in accidents during the past several years.

Paying close attention to trends on county roads from high on Grand Mesa to narrow streets in Clifton has paid off in a sharp reduction in collisions on those routes, county officials said.

Crashes on county roads — not counting those in municipalities, which individually deal with their own streets — dropped by 39 percent from 2008 to 2015, the last year for which Colorado Department of Transportation collision records are available.

“We’re seeing a definite downward trend,” said Pete Baier, assistant county administrator for operations.

The drop didn’t happen by accident, but it also wasn’t attributable to any single thing.

Rather, Baier said, it came about as county officials studied accidents and shared information with maintenance crews, including snowplow drivers and engineers.

In some cases, the answer was installation of guardrails, in others it had to do with widening shoulders to give drivers a bit more room to maneuver.

The county has about 15,000 traffic signs, and it tries to change out about 10 percent of them, or 1,500, every year, not counting those that have to be replaced as a result of vandalism or other damage.

That’s why drivers might see more reflective signs along roads in unincorporated areas and in some cases, it’s why stop signs are bordered with attention-grabbing flashing lights.

All the old yellow stop signs — and there were some — have been removed, Baier said.

The county also owns and maintains 450 bridges. When they need to be replaced, the new ones are about 20 feet wider than the old ones and are designed to accommodate
walkers, bike riders and other forms of transportation.

It was difficult to fit all that on a 30-foot-wide bridge, but one that’s 50 feet wide is multimodal, in engineering-speak.

Monitoring changes in traffic patterns also plays a role in determining where to make improvements, Baier said.

“We’re staying vigilant and watching for trends,” he said.

In one case, the county reoriented an intersection because analysis of accident data showed collisions happened about the same time — when the sun was shining directly into motorists’ eyes.

Improvements also have taken place in some of the county’s most far-flung areas, where one road was rerouted to remove sharp turns blamed for rollover accidents.

The county has about 3,300 lane miles — a 10-mile-long two-lane road would have 20 lane miles — that it maintains and it works on about 20 projects a year.

Those 3,300 lane miles are contained within the 1,500 center-line miles, or the length of all the roads, not including the separate lanes.

It also has 80,000 feet of guardrail, as well as 4,000 drainage culverts and 250 cattle guards.

“Safety is always a component” in planning road projects, Baier said.

The last year included in the analysis, 2015, showed an increase in collisions to 342, up from the 284 of 2014, but well below the 560 in 2008.

Officials hope the increase from 2015 from 2014 is just a blip in the overall downward trend, Baier said.


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