Last month’s fatal slide-off on Trough Road raises safety questions
The death of local man Toby Hargadine and his companion, Crysta Berntsen, roughly one month ago has raised questions over the location where the two slid off Trough Road and the road safety features in place in that area.
The two died Jan. 4 after the vehicle Hargadine was driving slid off the road and rolled numerous times down a cliff near a famous yet dangerous bend in the road known as Inspiration Point, one of Grand County’s most notoriously dangerous road segments.
Either guardrails or Jersey barriers run alongside almost the entirety of the roadway from above Inspiration Point to a location further west closer to the valley floor. There is a small section of the road, however, a little over 100 yards long, that overlooks the valley below that does not have any form of road barrier. It was in this area that Hargadine and Berntsen’s slide-off occurred.
While it is impossible to know whether or not a guardrail or Jersey barrier would have changed the outcome, the absence of any such safety device raises questions: Why was no barrier in place at that location? What entity determines when, where and how guardrails are installed on county roads?
The installation and maintenance of guardrails and other road barriers on county roads fall under the auspices of Grand County’s Road and Bridge Department. Questions regarding why no barrier was in place where Hargadine and Berntsen slid off are made all the more difficult because of the connections of the Hargadine family. Hargadine’s father is an employee of Grand County Road and Bridge and his death had a strong impact on the entire department.
“Everybody here, we are just an extended family,” said Chris Baer, Grand County Road and Bridge superintendent. “Our coworkers are an extension of our family. It is tough when it hits close to home like this.”
But Baer, who has been with Grand County Road and Bridge for roughly 24 years, said he did not know of any specific reason as to why no guardrail was in place at the location.
“I don’t have a good answer as to why there is a gap in the guardrail there,” Baer admitted. “We are trying to find something.”
Baer said he has reviewed the location extensively with other members of road and bridge since the crash and, to the best of their knowledge, the area in question along Trough Road has never had a guardrail in place.
“We want to look at it this spring and see if there is room to put a guardrail there,” he said.
The process of recommending, approving and installing new guardrails on Grand County roads occurs in a somewhat ad hoc fashion. Determinations are made as a group that includes road and bridge employees, the county engineer, the county manager’s office and the Grand County Board of Commissioners, according to Baer.
“Most of the responsibility falls on road and bridge and will be based on recommendations that we make,” he said. “We say this is what is needed. It could be anything from new guardrail to stop signs. We can bring things to the board’s attention at any time.”
Road and bridge relies extensively on standards developed by the Colorado Department of Transportation and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, when determining what, if any, safety measures need to be installed on county roads.
“Right now we are pretty much focused on maintaining what we have,” Baer said, explaining that road and bridge focuses more on repair and maintenance work as opposed to the installation of new barriers.
According to Baer, the last time Grand County Road and Bridge installed a new guardrail was on County Road 3, also known as Ute Pass Road, around 2012. Its cost can vary greatly depending on factors such as the material used, be it steel or wood, and the type of soil or rock the guardrails are installed upon. Baer offered a conservative estimate of roughly $10,000 to $15,000 for every 100 feet of guardrail.
Each year, road and bridge receives funding for repair and replacement projects but Baer said larger projects, such as the installation of extended segments of new guardrail, would likely occur through the county’s annual budgeting process.
Baer said the county plans to review the accident report and data sent by Colorado State Patrol before making a final determination about installing new guardrail where Hargadine’s slide off occurred.
“We are going to look at the history of the guardrail that is there and we are going to look at the guidelines that are put out by the different groups,” Baer said. “We will make a decision from there if we need to pursue this and put a guardrail in.”
Baer said local citizens can also lobby road and bridge to install new guardrail. There is no formal process in place to request the installation of new guardrail but Baer said he is always happy and willing to hear input from local citizens.
“I tell people my office door and phone is always open,” he said. “I am willing to take any suggestions or recommendations. We will look at those along with traffic data and accident reports to see if we are developing a trend somewhere. We have a large county here and I have to rely on the public.”
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The Colorado Department of Transportation has closed Colorado Highway 125 in Grand County with no estimated timetable for reopening.