LARKSPUR, Colo. — The Gap Project is now in full swing on I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock. It's now about 20 miles of construction zone driving. Since the work started in fall of 2018 drivers have dealt with traffic jams, but now News5 has state patrol numbers that show hundreds of crashes have made for a dangerous commute during the first year of the project.
The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates 79,000 drivers travel the Gap daily between Monument and Castle Rock. In the fall of 2018 major construction started for this stretch of I-25 bringing a series of new challenges for the men and women of the Colorado State Patrol who work to keep this corridor safe.
"There's not a lot of shoulders to work with. Traffic is definitely very dense and the project is very long in nature. It's nearly 20 miles long," said Captain Burt.
News5 Investigates acquired Colorado State Patrol crash numbers through an open records request and found in the Gap between October 2018 and and September of 2019 state troopers worked to clear 1203 crashes. That's an average of 100 crashes a month, or 3 a day. In September of 2019 alone, CSP there were 122 crashes.
Here is a look at the crash statistics News5 acquired through an open records request. These are crashes on I-25 between September 1, 2018, through October 15, 2019, from Mile Post 161 to Mile Post 182.
Following up on these findings Captain Burt invited News5 to ride with him through the Gap to look at some of the challenges and factors that led to those crash numbers.
"The road is a little rough right now," said Captain Burt as he drove from an on-ramp onto I-25.
"When people are in wrecks here along the Gap what are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make?," asked News5's Patrick Nelson.
"So following too closely is the root cause of a majority of these crashes," said Captain Burt. "If there is an incident ahead and somebody stops and you don't have a car length for roughly every ten miles per hour you are traveling you will not have mathematically the amount of time necessary to stop. What compounds that a little bit more that we were just talking about is without shoulders here if you can't stop you've got nowhere to steer to avoid a rear end collision."
Working an average three crashes a day in the Gap troopers patrolling this area are always looking for potential hazards.
"So we are going to stop and check on this motorist. It's not normal to see one sitting here for this long," said Captain Burt pulling over his patrol car.
"I'll just get off the road," the driver told Captain Burt.
"So, she's doing ok," said Captain Burt. "She was actually getting sleepy while she was driving. Made a good decision to pull over, but didn't realize there's an exit about a 1/4 mile ahead of her and that probably would've been a better location to be at."
Moment's later Captain Burt sees an example of gap driving dangers right out his window.
"So you can see right now we've got a white van to my left he's following this white Ford Explorer pretty closely. We're right at the speed limit of 60 miles per hour and I would estimate he's got one car length between him and the vehicle in front of him," said Captain Burt. "So that's a pretty unsafe following distance."
Captain Burt waited until the roadway opened up and made a traffic stop on the van, giving the driver a warning about following too closely.
"We're really looking for compliance," said Captain Burt. "The purpose for a citation is to change behavior in some cases, but if we can get it voluntarily without having to issue someone a citation that's a win for the driver, but also for us.">
The aim for the Colorado State Patrol is to see the number of crashes in the gap significantly reduced in 2020. Captain Burt says every two weeks first responders and construction leaders are meeting to take action or make adjustments to make this drive safer.
"The nice thing is because all of those partners are present we can take immediate action. We don't have to debate it. We don't have to have committees weigh it out. We can just make a decision on the spot and have it rectified in the next 24 hours," Captain Burt said.
Colorado traffic officials have said before any roadwork started that the 20-mile stretch between Monument and Castle Rock was a potentially dangerous drive averaging one crash a day.
Troopers say bad weather contributed to some of the problems but also say mistakes by drivers are magnified in this area, leading to crashes. The most common mistakes by drivers are following too closely and distracted driving.
State troopers say the work has started to try to improve on these crash statistics.
"We're going to drive hard to get a reduction in those number of crashes," said Colorado State Patrol Captain J.P Burt. "Now that this entire project all three phases are fully active and we have drivers that are commuting this every day for nearly 20 full miles of construction. We hope to see a plateau or a reduction in those numbers of crashes as people have achieved more of a comfort level driving through this corridor."
Work is being done to talk about trouble spots in the Gap and to stage first responders accordingly to clear any disabled vehicles or crashes quickly and safely.
The Gap Project is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2022.