Speed limit reduced near deadly trail head
Up above the inversion, temperatures topped a blissful 30 degrees Sunday on Grand Mesa.
Sun radiated brilliantly off several feet of snow as cross-country skiers and their dogs tromped around the County Line parking lot, a pullout on Colorado Highway 65 near the Delta-Mesa County line.
Just after noon, with a single line of cars already filling the lot and with no other place to park, the driver of a pickup drove up and parked on the other side of the road.
Yet, only two weekends after Grand Junction couple Linda and Glen Eyre were killed by a wayward vehicle in this very spot, some change already has occurred in the area that long had been dubbed a dangerous parking pullout.
Thanks to a coordinated and persistent effort by members of the Grand Mesa Nordic Council, group members helped persuade officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation to temporarily reduce posted speed limits from 55 mph to 45 mph along the roadway there.
Grand Junction resident Michelle Bailey, who frequents the Grand Mesa nearly twice a week in the winter to cross-country ski with her dog, said she noticed the new signage.
Signs on Colorado Highway 65 to the north and south of the County Line trail head warn motorists to slow down in the congested area.
“I’ve always thought this was a dangerous parking lot,” Bailey said, while scooping up her skis to glide along some trails.
In the wake of the death of the Eyres, members of the Nordic Council launched into action, demanding changes they have long sought.
The reduced speed limit signs are one victory.
“You’ve done so very quickly, so thanks for that,” Annie Murphy told CDOT officials about the new signage during a meeting last week.
Murphy is the president of the Nordic Council.
According to Zane Znamenacek, regional program engineer for CDOT, changing speed limits, in general, is difficult. Speed limits on state roadways are determined by a team of workers in Denver.
But the limits are ultimately determined by drivers. Posted limits reflect the speed that 85 percent of drivers travel in a certain area.
Limits also are not posted for the worst-case scenario, such as snowy, slick roads on Grand Mesa, Znamenacek said at the meeting.
“We can look at warning types of signs to some extent, but that’s as far as we’ll go,” he told members of the Nordic Council during the meeting.
“At some point people are going to willfully drive as fast as they want or slow down.”
Members of the Nordic Council hope motorists choose the latter.
Especially because crews won’t break ground on an expanded parking area at County Line until this summer.
Motorists should have a little more wiggle room next winter. The parking area will be pushed as far north as possible with 60 to 80 parking spots.
A 2010 study shows that an average 27 vehicles pack into the space during peak winter times, CDOT officials said.
Some of those changes can’t come soon enough for cross-country skiers.
Grand Junction couple Doug and Suzanne Goforth sometimes like to fire up a small grill and tailgate in the parking lot after a day of cross-country skiing.
They have long thought the pullout was dangerously close to the roadway, but the deaths of the Eyres further solidified their fear, they said Sunday.
“It had us thinking it could have been us,” Doug Goforth said.