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CDOT to improve safety features on Wolf Creek Pass

In an effort to decrease heavy truck accidents and increase safety on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass, the Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to implement a number of measures, beginning this fall.

In 2009, 10 heavy truck accidents occurred at the Wolf Creek overlook hairpin turn and the turn directly above the hairpin, said Tommy Humphrey, CDOT project engineer. There have been two heavy truck accidents on the two turns in 2010.

“Overall, we’re really trying everything we can to prevent the accidents from happening in the first place,” Humphrey said.

Though still in the design phase, construction is anticipated to start this fall and will likely take two seasons to complete. The project will be advertised to contractors in late summer, said Nancy Shanks, CDOT regional public relations manager.

The project will improve signage for westbound traffic, specifically trucks reaching the hairpin turn at the overlook; improve the overlook; replace the concrete barrier at the hairpin turn with installation of an oil-water separator; and improve the emergency truck escape ramp nearest to the overlook.

“It’s all about the safety of large trucks on that turn,” Shanks said.

Signs will be placed along the corridor to indicate that a truck should reduce speed and the distance at which the driver needs to reduce the speed. Other signs will show the percentage of grade, warn that trucks can easily tip over, and warn of curves in the highway, Shanks said.

The signs will use large icons with text underneath and will be an easily-visible, highly-reflective yellow, Shanks explained.

Other real-time, Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) signage will be placed above the icon signs and will be equipped with sensors to detect large trucks. After detecting vehicles over a certain size threshold, the signs will flash “reduce speed” warnings, Shanks said.

A total of three ITS signs will be installed for westbound truck traffic in the project.

“What I’ve really tried to do with this project is give truckers sufficient warning about what’s coming up,” Humphrey said.

The shoulder area at the hairpin turn will be widened and a 48-inch concrete barrier will replace the existing 36-inch barrier, Shanks reported.

An improved drainage system in the area will lead to an oil-water separator to mitigate damage from accidents and spills. The separator keeps oil and other hazardous materials at the top of the tank while pushing the water down. The oil and other materials can then be cleaned from the top by HazMat crews, Shanks said.

The separator will also lessen the need for sand to be spread on the highway in the event of diesel spills, and will reduce the chance of hazardous materials reaching water.

In what will perhaps be the most visible aspect of the project, approximately 1,200 feet of paved off ramp will create a new entry to the lowest westbound emergency truck escape ramp.

The off ramp, separated from the highway by a ditch and concrete barrier, will allow trucks to slow down more than they currently are able to, before reaching the escape ramp, Shanks said.

Humphrey said the concern was straightening the path for trucks, therefore reducing the danger of curves, without providing a shortcut for the general public, which could potentially cause more problems.

Concrete barriers will also line each side of the escape ramp.

A concrete base and improved drainage will be installed under the aggregate on the escape ramp in order to more efficiently slow trucks and to decrease ice on the ramp in winter, Shanks explained.

An area near the off ramp will provide truckers a place to stop and cool their vehicles’ brakes, without blocking the ramp.

The new additions will sit within the existing space created by a 2002 cut in the rock that improved sight distance, Humphrey said, and no blasting will be required to complete the project.

Another sign will be installed to better identify the scenic overlook, which will also receive improvements during the project.

In addition to becoming ADA-compliant (American Disabilities Act) through the installation of curve ramps, a top rail will be added to the chain link fence to increase safety, Shanks said.

Preliminary estimates put the total project cost at approximately $3 million, Shanks said.

Humphrey said the project will be paid with federal hazard elimination funding, which CDOT received for fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11.

In a further attempt to increase safety on the pass, a separate CDOT project will upgrade speed limit signs in order to make them easier to read, and the signs will indicate the speed and percent of the road’s grade. The signs will also indicate where brake check areas exist at the top of the pass, Shanks said. The large overhead signs will be replaced with yellow icon signs, as well.

randi@pagosasun.com