Tragic accident sparks renewed campaign for Hwy. 24 changes in Woodland Park

Tragic accidenIMG_8846t sparks renewed campaign for Hwy. 24 changes in Woodland Park

Rick Langenberg

The city of Woodland Park has declared war against delinquent motorists who run red lights, speed or do careless driving antics in cruising through town.

And for that matter, the city is rekindling its campaign to lower the posted speed limits in the downtown area, and plans to do some heavy-duty lobbying with representatives of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

“I think people who run red lights are idiots,” said Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery, who got emotional at the close of last week’s regular city council meeting. Buttery announced a zero tolerance policy in ticketing motorists who run lights. And already, the crackdown has been effective with a huge spike in tickets for stop light violators, according to officials of the Woodland Park Police Department.

“I don’t want Woodland Park to become known as a speed trap,” said Buttery. However, he stated he wants to relay the message that Woodland Park is a “don’t run red lights town,” with serious consequences for those who commit this crime.

Buttery was commenting on a recent fatal accident, involving a local male resident who lost his life through no fault of his own, when exiting a Wal-Mart store at the intersection of Hwy. 24 and Morning Sun, on April 6. The person, who hasn’t been named, was driving a Nissan ATS vehicle, and was making a left hand-turn onto Hwy. 24. The victim’s vehicle was struck by an east-bound Hwy 24 car that hit the Nissan head-on after reportedly running a red light.

Both the suspect and the victim were transported to the hospital. The accident is still under investigation, according to city officials. Initially, the victim appeared to be recovering, but due to injuries sustained in the accident, he died on April 11. “He did nothing wrong,” said a frustrated Buttery, in explaining the actions of the victim at last week’s meeting

“We want people to be aware,” said Buttery, in discussing the renewed crackdown against stop light violators and even speeders.

Several council members expressed remorse over the incident and regretted that it takes a tragedy to initiate changes. CDOT has done some signalization changes at this intersection to avert further accidents. The Hwy. 24 intersections, where the Safeway and Wal-Mart stores are located, have been referred to as problem areas for years due to geographical and topographical challenges.

The council maintained that it’s time for CDOT to address safety concerns on the main highway, and more specifically, to lower the speed limit along Hwy. 24.

But Buttery informed the council that elected leaders have been fighting CDOT for nearly 20 years on this speed issue. And if a traffic study is initiated, he indicated it could backfire with CDOT then opting to raise the speed limit due to the high speed in which people are now traveling through town. “We need to change their behavior,” said the city manager, in referring to the speed of travel of most motorists through town.

“We need to get our speed limit down to 25 (miles per hour). This is our main street,” said Buttery

The city manager didn’t get any arguments from the council, who want to see more stern action.

They also expressed bafflement over the lackadaisical attitude by CDOT, and their resistance towards lowering the speed limit.

In Buttery’s opinion, CDOT has operated with a reactive mind-set in regards to making changes. And unfortunately, he indicated it often takes a tragedy to make necessary rule changes.

“We need to be enforcing the law,” said Councilman Phil Mella, who said he knows the victim’s family quite well. “It was horrible.” Mella said the city shouldn’t hesitate in sterner enforcement regarding stop light violations and in speeding.

The city manager believes that when new traffic changes are done at the intersection of Center Street and Hwy. 24, with the growth of Woodland Station project, people will slow down.

Several council members cited problems with the overall signalization done at several intersections and inconsistent speed limits on the main highway, creating mixed messages for motorists, especially when they travel east-bound down Hwy. 24. “This is more than just a Wal-Mart issue,” said Councilman Noel Sawyer.

A key representative of CDOT will attend the next Woodland Park city council meeting on May 7. At that time, city officials and elected leaders may make another plea to lower the speed limit.