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Deadly Travel: The Challenges Of Highway 285

CONIFER, Colo. (CBS4) - Four years ago Lenny and Heather Juull got their dream home in the foothills after years in Denver. Every day they travel to their Denver Fasteners business in town and "almost every day it seems to be worse and worse," says Lenny about traveling Highway 285.

Highway 285 generic
Highway 285 (credit: CBS)

He runs a dash camera that has recorded egregious violations and out-of-control driving. Probably none was worse than the driver who came barreling through between lanes as Heather was at the wheel heading south not far from Tiny Town.

Highway 285
Highway 285 (credit: CBS)

"I immediately jerked and held my breath, and took a big gasp," said Heather about their near miss. "I watched two people in front of me get hit." The SUV driver continued to careen down the highway for several miles before he was stopped. There were car parts along the highway as Lenny and Heather drove home.

Lenny Juull
CBS4's Alan Gionet interviews Lenny Juull. (credit: CBS)

"Every single day, you'll see someone doing some form of road rage," said Angela Gajarski, whose Jeep was sideswiped in the front tire by a driver who was at first behind her as she drove the speed limit, then passed on the right and cut back in front of her.

They pulled over.

Angela Gajarski (2)
(credit: CBS)

"He began to argue with me, telling me it was my fault and this, that and the other," said Gajarski.

There were no cars in either lane directly in front of them, giving him no reason, she believes, to pull back abruptly into the left lane.

Gajarski and her husband bought their dream home in the foothills 15 years ago. Now she's not sure they'll stay because of the dangers on 285.

"Over the last 15 years, I would say so. There's just way too many people moving up there. There's a lot more traffic."

Statistics back up beliefs that it is dangerous. Federal traffic data shows there were 22 people killed in crashes on Highway 285 between C-470 and Bailey from 2012 – 2017, the most recent five year period available. There were 15 people killed on Interstate 70 between Morrison and Dumont in the same time period. I-70 has three times the average traffic volume.

PHOTO GALLERY: A Look Back At Serious Crashes On Highway 285

"I kind of monitor everything that happens on the highway because I've been very involved with trying to get it fixed. And the number of accidents that have increased dramatically," said Bailey resident Bill Bruner. "They're putting a big strain on the volunteer fire departments that are around here."

285 Bruner
CBS4's Alan Gionet interviews Bill Bruner. (credit: CBS)

Bruner has pulled together meetings with lawmakers and officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation.

"The more people I bring together, the more we discuss things, the better chance we have of resolving them," said Bruner.

But the biggest problem is money and spending priorities. CDOT at one point had an idea to widen the highway to four lanes all the way to Fairplay. But the money has never materialized. There's not even an environmental study completed.

Some of the worst areas are seeing some attention. "Kings Valley is one of the most deadly intersections that we have," said Bruner. CDOT is designing an overpass, but still working on the funding.

There are no bad guys, Bruner echoes, except the aggressive drivers, of which there seem to be more, many locals say.

"Because of the traffic and the accidents and the people who just feel like it's all about them," said Gajarski.

With 3% more traffic forecast each year, it just doesn't get any easier.

"It's only going to get worse and it's going to take more people to die before something really gets done," said Bruner.

Here is a history of proposals for change as well as projects in the works provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation:

  • There is an approved Environmental Assessment to make 285 four lanes from Foxton Road to the top of Crow Hill, immediately north of Bailey.
  • This EA shows a 4-lane divided section with 7 CDOT constructed interchanges, and 1 developer constructed interchange.
  • Between 2007 and 2011, CDOT constructed the widening between Foxton Road and Richmond Hill, as well as interchanges at Richmond Hill, Shaffers Crossing, and Deer Creek.
  • Widening from Richmond Hill to Deer Creek remains to be done, as well as interchanges at Mountain View Park and Ride, Kings Valley, Parker Drive and Pine Junction.
  • The Developer constructed interchange is planned for County Road 43A, near Deer Creek-and will be triggered by certain land use improvements in agreement with Park County.
  • Total cost of the remaining improvements is approximately $225M. • We are designing the interchange at Kings Valley-and are working to assemble a funding package for it.
  • No environmental study has been completed to widen the stretch of 285 from Bailey to Fairplay. Improvements to the corridor were reviewed in a Major Investment Study (MIS) in the 90s, where various routes to the mountains were reviewed-but no further study was advanced for 285.
  • An operational study was completed in 2011 for the corridor. One of the recommendations was a series of passing lanes between Fairplay and Kenosha Pass-and a set of those was completed
    in about 2013. The cost to four-lane 285 from Bailey to Fairplay would be several hundred million dollars.
  • The canyon southwest of Bailey would pose construction challenges-as would Kenosha Pass.
  • The area from Kenosha Pass to Red Hill Pass contains a remarkable subalpine Fen Wetland. In designing the passing lanes described earlier, these Fen wetlands were a constraint to be reckoned with. This constraint would also impact any plans to widen the highway. It would not prevent the widening, but it would complicate it.
  • In Park County, CDOT is nearing completion of a project that resurfaced and improved ride quality of a 20-mile segment of US 285, north and south of Fairplay. The $14.5 million project also widened three miles of highway, in both directions, to accommodate for passing lanes in an area prone to crashes, south of Fairplay, from mile point 175 to 178.
  • US 285 and SH 9 intersection is currently being designed for dual left turn lanes for northbound to westbound and eastbound to northbound in Fairplay.
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