MONTE VISTA— Colorado 15, south of Monte Vista, is a potential hazard for motorists. This is especially more pronounced for school buses that travel the road regularly with valued cargo on board. A lack of shoulder area opens up the doors for unspeakable tragedy.
Monte Vista City Councilor and Monte Vista School District bus driver Gary Johnson, attended the Thursday, May 2 meeting of the Transportation Planning Region (TPR) to address this issue with local government leaders and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
“The main concern attracting my attention has always been the first four miles past the Monte Vista city limits. The lack of shoulder area (or literally any space outside the white line perimeter) is extremely shallow and in fact non-existent for much of this short span. This is nothing new and has certainly been a subject of concern and study in the past. But possibly the severity of the issue as it relates to the continued standard 40-60 passenger school bus as well as the smaller special needs school bus usage has not been sufficiently considered,” stated Johnson.
To further drive home his point Johnson asked the group to imagine a scenario where a bus is in an accident on the road and lands on its side. He also placed special emphasis on considering a special needs bus with a heavy scooter on board.
“A heavy commercial vehicle contacting the soft grassy down-sloped 6-inch to 8-inch ‘shoulder’ can easily be pulled further off the pavement and potentially into the 4-foot to 6-foot ditch. Inconvenient, messy and somewhat hazardous, but also potentially deadly. With likely two feet to three feet of water several children would be trapped; some injured, but all with very limited means of escape. The right side windows (now the floor of the vehicle) are unusable and letting in water. The left side windows are now at the roof and also inaccessible. The front door is under water and the roof exits (only two) are jammed with panicked children trying desperately to get out. The rear door is hopefully not jammed, but difficult to access climbing over seats and through water.
Now add to that a wheelchair passenger also on the right side and also potentially under water. Her and her 400 plus pound motorized scooter are both securely strapped in and almost impossible to move.
This may sound overly dramatized and while CDOT and other agencies have detailed emergency procedures in place, no one has any simple solution to this kind of catastrophic road tragedy. In the case of the special needs bus, evacuation under the simplest of conditions, is extremely difficult and dangerously time consuming,” said Johnson.
For these reasons Johnson asked the TPR and CDOT to consider widening at least the first four miles of Colorado 15. He recommended that adding three to four feet to the shoulder on each side of the road would be a helpful safety margin to prevent any potential future calamity.
Erin Minks from the office of United States Senator and 2020 Presidential Candidate Michael Bennet, offered a suggestion that perhaps a Federal Access Lands Program Grant could be applied for to help with the situation. This might be a feasible opportunity because the road sits on the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge, which is federal land. She theorized that the Monte Vista Crane Festival might also have similar concerns for the safety the annual birders that visit the area every year.
Representatives from TPR and CDOT shared that there are already some actions scheduled to take place to improve safety on Colorado 15. This includes expanding edge lines and adding rumble strips, they explained.
It was agreed that the road is a safety hazard. There have been an average of two accidents per year on the stretch of road. There is no easy and immediate solution, but the stakeholders present appeared committed to working on improving safety conditions.