CDOT eyes U.S. 40 safety

State plans to improve Muddy Pass area

— The Colorado Department of Transportation has earmarked $4.8 million for safety improvements to a two-mile stretch of U.S. 40 on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass.

The project, however, won't improve road conditions for an area of the pass where a number of motorists have lost their lives in accidents since 1998.

Instead, starting at the junction of U.S. 40 and Colorado 14, CDOT plans to widen the road for another lane, add a message sign, improve the access to Muddy Pass Lake and clear timber.

To unveil the project to the public, CDOT is hosting an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. today at the Routt National Forest office, 925 Weiss Drive.

The safety improvements were spurred by the number of accidents that have occurred on the Muddy Pass stretch since 1993, said CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson.

"This section of road has an above-average accident rate when compared to comparable mountain passes," Wilson said. "Because of the curves, we hope this project will improve road sight."

CDOT calculates accidents on highways in the state based on per million vehicle miles traveled. The average accident rate which includes non-injury, injury and fatality accidents for a comparable mountain pass is 2.10 per million vehicle miles traveled.

Since 1993, Muddy Pass' rate has been 4.63 accidents per million vehicle miles traveled.

The first phase of the project, scheduled to start this summer, includes grading in preparation for widening of the two-lane highway as well as slope stabilization.

"We are going to try to straighten out the curves," Wilson said.

The first phase also calls for the installation of drainage infrastructure for the new road and clearing trees. Taking out some of the timber will be done to cut down on the amount of shade and ice one the road.

The second phase of the project is scheduled for the summer of 2002. It calls for the construction of a second lane for westbound traffic. The lane is being added for slower-moving vehicles.

The widened road also will provide 4-foot to 8-foot shoulders for emergency parking and bicyclists.

"The cyclists will like this shoulder," Wilson said.

A sign also will be installed at the junction of U.S. 40 and Colo. 14 for westbound traffic heading toward Steamboat Springs.

The digital sign, similar to what overhangs Interstate 70 near Vail, will provide westbound motorists with road conditions of Muddy and Rabbit Ears passes and tell them if chain laws are in effect.

"The sign will let motorists know if they should use Gore Pass instead of Rabbit Ears," Wilson said.

The project also will provide improved access to Muddy Pass Lake for westbound traffic. The project calls for a turn lane to be added to the roadway.

"The safety improvements should be in place by the fall of 2002," Wilson said.

CDOT decided to make the improvements to the two-mile stretch of the pass because of a safety report that was completed in 1999. The department is working on a safety report for Rabbit Ears Pass as well.

Since 1998, nine motorists have been killed in traffic accidents on Rabbit Ears. All the fatalities have occurred on the west side of the pass.

The last three people killed were truck drivers; two of those deaths happened after the first of the year.

Residents who have questions about this report can get information at tonight's open house, Wilson said.

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