State patrol captain on U.S. 40 fatal accidents: ‘One of these crashes is too many for us’

Law enforcement working to reduce dangerous driving habits between Steamboat and Craig

Drivers make their way from Steamboat Springs toward Craig along U.S. Highway 40 on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Colorado State Patrol troopers working with Capt. Ryan Parker have responded to five fatal accidents, four between Steamboat Springs and Craig, in the past seven months.

“I don’t want to quantify this number as a lot, or say that is a lot of crashes,” Parker said. “One of these crashes is too many for us.”

Parker leads Troop 4B, which is based in Craig and covers Routt, Moffat, Grand, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties. The area has seen 13 fatal crashes since January. In 2022 the troop covered a total of six fatal crashes in the five-county area including a couple on U.S. Highway 40.

“I’ve been the troop captain here for a little over two years,” Parker said. “In 2022, we also had a couple along that section of Highway 40, so I think that’s where a lot of people are really trying to drill down and ask why this is happening in these areas. To be honest and completely frank, we cover a lot of crashes troop-wise in those five counties and Highway 40 is a hot spot area for us … with the amount of traffic from Craig to Steamboat.”

Fatal accidents on the stretch of U.S. 40 between Steamboat and Craig have included one on Feb. 6 at milepost 124, one Feb. 21 at milepost 98, one July 23 at milepost 126 and one Sept. 9 at milepost 105. Additionally, a driver and passenger were killed Aug. 2 in a semi-truck rollover on Rabbit Ears Pass.

While increased traffic is not necessarily the sole cause of more accidents, Parker said his troopers have noticed more cars commuting between the the two towns, and troopers are doing their best to make that section of road a focus. He said weather closures along I-70 and I-80 last winter also impacted traffic levels along U.S. 40.

Elise Thatcher, Region 3 communications manager at Colorado Department of Transportation, said traffic counts indicate the annual average daily traffic was 5,400 vehicles in 2022, according to a continuous counting station on the east side of Craig. That number was 5,000 in 2019.

The counts represent each vehicle that passes, meaning a commuter coming from Craig to work in Steamboat, and then heading back home at the end of the day accounts for two vehicles in the total.

“It’s not as high as other communities that have heavy commuting into resort areas,” Thatcher said. “This includes areas like U.S. 40 from Granby and Winter Park, Colorado Highway 9 from Frisco to Breckenridge, U.S. Highway 6 Silverthorne to Keystone and, of course, Colorado Highway 82 through Glenwood Springs and Aspen.”

Thatcher said the Glenwood-Aspen commute has an annual average daily traffic number of 27,000. Those numbers are trending up along U.S. 40 between Craig and Steamboat Springs the past several years.

“Much of the traffic is simply due to local development,” Thatcher said. “It may also be that with the pending closures of the mines and power plants in Craig and Hayden that more people are looking for careers in Steamboat.”

Routt County Sheriff Doug Scherar said he and his officers have noticed an increase in traffic, vehicle crashes and more calls to dispatch from people reporting drivers who are speeding, tailgating or making dangerous passes. He said the calls are effective, but if the reporting parties are unwilling to sign a complaint, there is not much his officers can do.

“The major cause for the accidents we see is people being in too much of a hurry, and not giving themselves enough time, and making silly mistakes like bad passes,” Scherar said. “There’s been an increase in the number of traffic accidents on that road, and the amount of traffic in general. It has changed what we’re doing, and we’ve directed a lot more patrols out there during specific hours — high volume and traffic hours — to try to get some extra enforcement and get people to slow down.”

Parker said Colorado State Patrol is taking a similar approach working to increase visibility and keeping an eye out for speeders. He said other factors in wrecks include the weather, animals, lane violations and inattentive driving. He also stressed the importance of seat belts.

“We’re out, and we’ve got our agency partners out there with the sheriff’s office and police departments and doing the best they can to be visible,” Parker said. “My expectation for my troopers is to be visible, and be out there trying to impact the driving behaviors of the public — we need to slow people down. We’re always looking for impaired driving, and seat belt enforcement is a priority of ours as well.”

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