County commissioner seeks to lower speed limit on Red Dirt Hill in wake of fatal crash |

County commissioner seeks to lower speed limit on Red Dirt Hill in wake of fatal crash

The illustration above shows the rough area of Red Dirt Hill, along Highway 40, near where Wednesday’s fatal crash occurred.
Illustration by Bryce Martin

Concerns were raised about the safety of traffic on Red Dirt Hill this week following the fatal crash that killed an elderly couple on Wednesday.

Red Dirt Hill, the portion of Highway 40 from about milepost 217 to 222 between Granby and Tabernash, has been the scene of many car crashes and fatalities over the years. Many travelers consider the stretch of road a hazard due to its tight curves, steep elevation and poor visibility.

The car crash Wednesday that claimed the lives of a 77-year-old man and 75-year-old woman occurred just past milepost 219, near where the eastbound passing lane merges into a single lane.

There were 14 crashes in that area, between mileposts 218.75 and 219.25, from Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2017, according to data obtained by Sky-Hi News from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Of those 14 incidents, two injuries were reported. Three of the incidents involved a vehicle that overturned and only two occurred during snow, sleet or hail. Of the total, eight involved wildlife.

But that data represents just a half-mile of Red Dirt Hill.

Grand County Commissioner Richard Cimino told Sky-Hi News on Thursday that he would pursue getting a reduced speed limit on Red Dirt Hill. The county would bring it up for discussion at a future meeting of the board of commissioners, he said.

Though, that’s not a guarantee the speed limit would change.

According to Mark Bunnell, a CDOT resident engineer for Region 3 traffic and safety, said there is a process to change a road’s speed limit.

Red Dirt Hill’s current speed limit, 65 mph, was established by Colorado law. To change it, according to Bunnell, the issue must be presented to a special group that handles speed studies with CDOT.

“They look at a particular stretch of road for any sight distance issues, the lack of development along side the roads, they look at the free-flow speed — what are people driving today,” he explained. “They take all those factors into consideration in determining what the appropriate speed limit should be on a particular stretch of road.”

It’s not CDOT’s responsibility to initiate the change of speed limits. Instead, he said, it is the duty of local government.

“We look to the local governments to contact us to initiate them,” he confirmed.

Bunnell said he wasn’t aware of any speed studies conducted on the Red Dirt Hill stretch of the highway.

And while a total of 14 crashes might seem high, according to Bunnell, factoring out the wildlife collisions, the actual number of crashes for that specific part of Red Dirt Hill would be below the average of what is expected on such a roadway.

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