Red Dirt Hill study outlines $7.1M in improvements
Lately, anytime Abby Loberg is driving home east on US Highway 40 up Red Dirt Hill, she goes out of her way.
Rather than risk a rear-end collision while she’s stopped at the end of a merging lane to turn left onto County Road 88, Loberg will keep going and make a U-turn so she can turn right into her neighborhood.
“If it’s a busy day, we and our neighbors may turn at the Y or at Indian Peaks, but I don’t make that left turn,” Loberg said as she tried to raise awareness for what she sees as a dangerous situation.
“Up until this June, the signs told drivers to keep right except to pass and most drivers did, so there were fewer probable cars getting into the left lane.”
A Colorado Department of Transportation study on US 40 between Granby and Tabernash highlighted the intersection with County Road 88 as one of many areas that could be improved.
Requested by the Grand County Commissioners, the study analyzed US 40 between mile points 217 and 223. Suggestions from the study included changes to passing and turn lanes, adding guardrails, lighting and signage, as well as reducing the speed to 60 mph.
“We can’t dictate speed limits; we can just request a study, so that’s what we (did),” County Commissioner Rich Cimino said. “This report was thorough.”
He added that the county and CDOT are scheduling a meeting to discuss the results of the study and potential next steps.
With the current configuration of the road, particularly how drivers are forced to merge left, Loberg noted that more people are merging into the left lane earlier, creating a higher risk for those trying to turn.
She added that the signage in the area, as well as the arrows, can be confusing and don’t let drivers know in advance what to expect.
“Cars are getting into the left lane for no reason,” she said. “They’re not passing a car in the right lane; it’s just the sign and the arrows tell them to get over, so they move over and get frustrated with us, when we’re sitting at the top of the hill … in what they consider the passing lane.”
According to crash data included in the Red Dirt Hill study, there have been 150 wrecks on the stretch of road from January 2014 to June 2019 with two fatal accidents and 27 that caused injury.
Only 20% of the wrecks involved more than one car, and 12% of the accidents were intersection or driveway access related.
In an effort to make drivers more aware of the problems, CDOT installed an intersection sign before County Road 88 that notes cars could be turning left. However, it’s an easy sign to miss. Other signs in close sequence tell drivers to keep right except to pass and to merge left because the right lane is ending.
Ultimately, the study echoes Loberg’s recommendation about shortening the eastbound climbing lane to end around mile point 218.6, which is before the crest of the hill. It estimates this change would cost $25,000.
Aside from the County Road 88 intersection, the study also recommends improving intersections at County Road 52, County Road 54, the entrance to the YMCA, County Roads 85/87, the initial westbound curve and County Road 858.
In total the study recommends $7.1 million in construction to improve Red Dirt Hill over the long term; however, no funding is currently dedicated to the suggested projects.
“I’m optimistic there will be some widening and some turn lane improvements, but … I still think it’s going to be a risky road and a challenge,” Cimino said. “We’re going to do the best we can.”
Both Cimino and Loberg also think a speed reduction on Red Dirt Hill would be beneficial to improving safety.
“It’s not a significant change, but it’s a change in the right direction,” Cimino said. “If there’s 1,000 cars or more on that road, then if 100 folks drive slower, it’s an improvement for safety.”
While the study outlines short, medium and long-term changes, it doesn’t include a timeline for the work. CDOT is also currently facing a $7 billion impact to road projects, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
A representative for CDOT did not return requests for comment.
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