Three years after the terrible incident that claimed four lives and injured 10 others, the Colorado Department of Transportation has plans to build a second runaway ramp in Mount Vernon Canyon, west of Denver. Engineers have begun studies to find a suitable location for the escape ramp. It will be a left-sided ramp, giving a second option for drivers who lose their brakes or cannot stop in time for traffic backups. That is what happened to Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, the driver who received the infamous 100+ year sentence that was reduced to 10 years including time served by Governor Jared Polis. Let’s do our own feasibility study to see if the second ramp would have helped.
A lot of opinions and statements were made about this incident. Improper training, driving too fast, distracted driving, the usual components of a tractor-trailer crash. I’m not here to judge, I’m here to look at that road.
According to crashforensics.com, Mount Vernon Canyon is divided into two sections, Floyd Hill and Genesee Hill. Both have 6% inclines, meaning a 6-foot drop for every 100 feet traveled. It is a typical “steep incline” road allowed by highway engineering laws. Floyd Hill is a short run of about 2.5 miles, but has a hard turn that is known to cause truck rollovers. Genesee Hill is tamer, but with a couple of steep steps in the eastbound descent into Denver.
It’s this hill that will receive the new ramp, east of the junction of State Road 93 and I-70 near Exit 259. The ramp will be just below the existing one, but in the median, the side that the truck driver was on when the crash occurred. It will have a NASCAR-style barrier with a fence on top to divide traffic. Will a second ramp help prevent another tragedy?
Sure, but only if the driver realizes he needs to take that option. Panic and “mentally breaking” were reasons given by the driver in an interview for not taking the ramp. Improper driver training was another factor. Mountain grade training is not taught at most driving schools. Even the existence of such runaway ramps might not be known to new drivers. Companies operating in the mountains, whether it is the Rocky Mountains, Appalachian mountains, the Cascades or others, should teach drivers how to handle themselves on steep inclines. Why build another runaway ramp if no one knows what it’s for and why it exists?