Speed limit changes discussed for Colo. 13

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Some people call the stretch of highway heading south from Craig toward Meeker "the killing zone" or "the petting zoo" because of the abundant wildlife and the high number of animal and vehicle accidents.

But some regulatory agencies may be trying to change those observations by reducing the nighttime speed limit on Colorado Highway 13.

Sgt. Gary Meirose of the Colorado State Patrol said that vehicle crashes with animals make up more than three-fourths of the accidents on the road that the patrol covers. In addition, drivers commuting under the cover of darkness may be hindered from stopping well enough in advance to prevent accidents with wildlife along the route, which mainly consists of deer and elk crossings.

"We just want to slow people down," Meirose said. "We'll still have problems with the road, but we figure if people slow down at night, it could help."

Speed limits for Colorado Highway 13 have been 65 mph for at least about the past five years, Meirose said. They were increased from 55 mph.

Charles Meyer, regional transportation operations engineer for CDOT, said nighttime speed limits are being discussed in general for the state. Traffic and speed studies --hich may take up to a year -- must be completed before speed limits can be changed on any state roadways. Meyer said he's not aware that a formal study has been proposed for the Highway 13, though the issue has been discussed.

"We work closely with the Colorado State Patrol to find locations where safety is an issue," he said.

When studying a specific location to determine whether a posted speed is accurate, CDOT officials take into consideration enforcement of a speed limit, a road's surrounding development and its accident history, among other factors.

According to CDOT's website, annual traffic on Colorado Highway 13 in about a 12-mile stretch south of Hamilton reported an average 1,600 vehicles day in 2004. That number is projected to increase to 1,739 by 2010, according to the site's online calculator.

Trevor Balzer, a Colorado Department of Wildlife district manager for areas south of Craig, travels at least a portion of Highway 13 every day for the past year. Although the Craig resident said he usually is looking out for wildlife, he's almost collided with animals on the road a couple of times when he hasn't been entirely paying attention to driving.

"I'm out there thinking about driving and my job is to watch animals," he said. "The normal commuter is thinking about their job or their family and they're probably pushing it. The couple of close calls I've had was when I was in a hurry."

Balzer said that deer migrate in the spring and fall and may be more prone to cross the roadways at that time, but lots of wildlife can usually be seen near a number of roadways in Northwest Colorado at just about any time of year.

But, a quicker solution than a switch to a nighttime speed limit reduction may work just as well to curb speeding drivers on the about 90-mile stretch from Craig to Rifle. The Patrol plans to increase its coverage on the road after each troop in the state was granted 200 hours overtime hours. Meirose said local troopers will use all of those overtime hours patrolling all of highway 13.

"We will be working the highway more," he said.

Trooper Doug Kline works at least a portion of Highway 13 every shift. Troopers are required to patrol that road and U.S. Highway 40 every day, as the roads constitute the area's main thoroughfares, Kline said.

When Kline started working for the force about a decade ago, the speed limit on Highway 13 was 55. Still, he's covered countless accidents on Highway 13 during the years. He credits that with icy winter conditions that seem to linger on the roads longer than on other roads because of high canyon walls that block the sunlight in some sections. And, the highway marks the shortest route for Craig residents to access the area's largest city center, Grand Junction.

"If (the speed limit) changes it will just take getting used to," he said. "If we have less crashes that's ultimately our goal."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com

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