The Road To Safety

Apr 152007
Authors: Drew Haugen

Man, do I dislike interstate travel in Colorado. For the most part, the highways I use are congested, dangerous and in disrepair.

And, given that unintentional accidents are the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, Colorado’s roads and bridges will need some serious revamping and improvement sometime very soon to ensure safer roads for Coloradans.

I have come to dread the drive home from the ski slopes, mostly because there is virtually always a traffic jam on I-70 on account of some minor fender-bender.

The ensuing course of events is typical: I-70’s two lanes slow to a sluggish pace, poor-etiquette drivers try to weave through the slow-moving and icy traffic (causing more risks for accidents) and we all get to study the litter, frozen grass and deer carcasses of the highway’s medians as we travel at 2 mph for an hour and a half.

But I-70 is not an isolated case as a rare instance of a crammed tourist road. No, the problems on I-70 are indicative of the state of many of Colorado’s bridges and roads.

Recently, I’ve begun using I-25 sparingly and only when I must, simply because its congestion, disrepair and high risk status for accidents is appalling.

A highway that should have been a four-lane from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs (swelling to six or seven lanes through Denver) years ago, I-25 is decades behind where other roads its capacity are around the nation. What’s more, this has earned I-25 a pretty infamous reputation as one of the deadliest roads in Colorado (if not the deadliest).

This is probably because I-25 is one large bottleneck. Two lanes of traffic for the main artery of travel through a state with the populace the size of Colorado combined with a high volume of travelers and commuters sets the scene for disaster.

I recently saw one scenario of disaster played out on I-25, south of Colorado Springs about a month and a half ago. It was when one of these flash blizzards hit, dumping enough snow to make the roads barely but dangerously passable.

The actual wreck on northbound I-25 was more than 30 cars long. The road was eerily flooded with tow trucks, at least 20, trying to clear the damage. Luckily, I was in the southbound lane and was able to observe the damage, but others were not so lucky.

Further down the longest car wreck I’ve ever seen is where the traffic jam of undamaged cars started. I watched our car’s odometer as well traveled down the wreck: It turned out to be almost three miles long.

This is just one glaring firsthand example of the dangers of having roads not up to the capacities required for a fast-growing state like Colorado.

Why are our roads so poor? Mostly because their improvement went mostly overlooked during Governor Bill Owens’ eight-year tenure.

Under Governor Bill Owens, a plan for a mass transit system was ready to go for the I-70 corridor, but was cut at the last minute. T-Rex improved (and is still improving) many roads in Denver, but many other roads in Colorado went ignored.

Luckily, the state of Colorado’s new leadership has taken clear steps to start fixing some of these problems.

On April 5, Governor Bill Ritter hosted a “Bridges to the 21st Century” transportation summit, in which more than 560 members of state government and the private sector met to discuss current issues of Colorado’s roads and bridges.

The Governor has also created the Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel: A blue ribbon panel to synthesize and evaluate solutions for future transportation improvement projects, possibilities for increased funding for CDOT projects, and to provide their recommendations to the Governor.

Governor Ritter’s administration has taken solid, clear steps towards road and bridge improvement through the typical avenues: Blue ribbon panels and summits. And, hopefully, once recommendations and solutions are produced by these advisory bodies, the Governor will take the political action necessary to improve the safety of our roads and bridges soon.

With high rates of growth and expansion but lack of a political impetus to improve road safety for the last decade, Colorado is currently mired in a dangerous road situation: If the Governor wants to score some good political capital while improving Coloradans’ safety, he’ll make good on his transportation rhetoric, and soon.

Drew Haugen is a senior International Studies major. His column appears every Monday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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