Drivers on Highway 82 may have noticed an increased presence of sheriff’s deputies on the road, as well as the introduction of a new pacing system designed to slow traffic down and prevent accidents in critical areas.
Beginning about three weeks ago, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office began placing more patrol vehicles on the highway during the morning and afternoon rush hours, in order to increase the visibility of law enforcement and slow down traffic, according to law enforcement officials.
And after testing out a pacing system last year — when a patrol vehicle drives in the middle of the two upvalley or downvalley lanes at a consistent speed — the program will be in greater use this winter, said Alex Burchetta, a patrol director with the sheriff’s office.
Current pacing efforts are focused on the area of the highway between Brush Creek Road and Aspen Village where wildlife crossings are common. Deputies target their speeds, and thus the speeds of the cars behind them, at around 50 miles per hour, Burchetta said. On that particular stretch, many speeding motorists reach 70 mph, so the slower speeds could make all the difference in a driver’s ability to avoid a wildlife collision.
The pacing program will expand to Snowmass Canyon once winter weather begins to affect driving, Burchetta said. With icy and snowpacked roads, pacing speeds may reach as low as 25 mph, he said.
With both the pacing and the increased-visibility initiatives, “the goal is truly public safety,” Burchetta said, noting that slower speeds mean fewer accidents.
“It’s not an enforcement campaign,” he said. “The goal is education.”
Burchetta pointed out that in the aftermath of an accident, sheriff’s deputies who respond are placed at risk because they are often walking around the scene of the collision.
“It puts deputies at a great amount of risk because the roads have already proven to be slick enough to cause an accident,” he said. “ ... We want drivers to be as safe as possible.”