On Thursday, July 21, at around 3:30 p.m., I was returning home from the Cortez area with my wife on Hwy. 550 near Colona. An hour earlier we had gotten in the middle of the traffic backups due to CDOT operations performing cleanup of mudslides across the highway near Sawpit and Placerville. We noted that over 50 vehicles were let loose at once by the flagger to proceed past us. When our westbound lane of traffic was released, I knew that Dallas Divide was going to turn into a zoo. I did not realize that a deathtrap was going to evolve further down the road.
As expected, the traffic was horrendous to Ridgway. It got even worse as we headed toward Montrose. There was a line of bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles behind us. Just south of Colona, there were two vehicles stopped in their southbound lanes trying to turn across traffic to the east. I saw the driver of the second car looking nervously at his rear view mirror as we went by and immediately knew tragedy was almost certainly coming. I flashed my lights at oncoming traffic to try and warn them, but it apparently was not enough to prevent a terrible accident. With a curve and a hill blocking the view from traffic coming up from behind the two vehicles (and at least 60 mph and nowhere to go), it was going to happen. The section of passing lanes in Colona only serves as a race track which then dumps into a winding and narrow deathtrap of Highway 550 that is unexpected by out-of-area travelers. The fact that it was not a 20-car pileup is a pure miracle! It should also be noted that not a single State Patrol car was seen from Lizard Head Pass to Montrose.
Having pondered this at length, I feel that this should be considered an open letter to CDOT to effect some changes to prevent further tragedies on this dangerous highway.
First, in construction or project zones such as these, maybe flaggers should only let groups of 10-15 cars go at once with a gap of at least one minute between groups to try and keep road rage and congestion at bay. Secondly (and a simple fix for this stretch of highway), they could install signs at every driveway in this narrow canyon stretch of Hwy. 550 prohibiting left turns across oncoming traffic. Sure, it would be a hassle for those home-owners to have to go down the road, make a righthand turn and come back to their driveway every time, but the lives saved are theirs and their families. Eventually, completing four lanes from Colona to Ridgway would alleviate this issue. Maybe that project should be brought to the forefront. With more rain coming and until then, BEWARE!