Colorado in autumn is simply one of the most beautiful places in the world. There is nothing quite like watching the Aspenschange from green to red, orange, and gold, framed by the glorious Rocky Mountains. One of the best ways to view the breathtaking scenery our great state has to offer is by taking a scenic drive through the mountains. However, be forewarned, these scenic drives often come with a fair amount of risk.
Colorado is home to some of the most dangerous roads and highways in the world. While it is perfectly safe for passengers to gawk at the scenery passing by outside of a car window, even a tiny glimpse away from the road by a driver could prove catastrophic. The following roads and highways can be dangerous in Colorado.
The Million Dollar Highway
Located in southwest Colorado, the Million Dollar Highway is regularly featured on lists of the most dangerous roads in the world. More than 300 accidents took place on the Million Dollar Highway between 1995 and 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Most of the accidents happened in dry conditions and involved one vehicle and nine people were killed during that time. Although other roads in Colorado are more dangerous, this stretch of highway continually ranks high on lists of most dangerous roads.
Russian immigrant Otto Mears originally constructed the 25-mile road in the 1880s as a simple toll road to reach mining camps. The Colorado Department of Highways updated the road for automotive use in the 1920s. Today, this narrow, two-lane stretch of highway is officially named US 550. Following along the Animas River through Southern Ute Indian Reservation, the Million Dollar Highway connects the cities of Durango and Ouray.
The entire highway received its unusual nickname from just 12 miles of tight, winding road through the Uncompahgre Gorge, south of Ouray. This stretch of road offers spectacular scenic views if you are brave enough to travel the winding road next to steep cliff sides unprotected by guardrails. The highway remains open year round, even during the snowy season.
The weather in this area can be harsh. Clear skies turn to heavy snowfall without warning. If enough snow accumulates on the road, driving without chains on your tires may become impossible. In particular, if you are traveling southbound on the Million Dollar Highway, you will be on the “outside” of the road and without guard railing to prevent you from careening over the side of the cliff if you begin to slide off the road in the snow.
In addition to snowfall, avalanches and landslides may occur, making this stretch of road one of the most dangerous in the world. History is full of accounts of wagons, cattle, and humans tumbling into the ravine after an avalanche. However, due to the efforts of Colorado’s highway engineers, no avalanches have killed humans since 1992.
So where did the highway get its name? While some claim it is due to the cost to build the highway, others say it is a reference to locals claiming they’d have to be paid a million dollars to drive the road in the winter.
Other Notable Dangerous Highways in Colorado
Interstate 25: Car accidents occur up and down this highway, but two areas in particular see much higher numbers of accidents.
First, the stretch of road between Santa Fe and Interstate 70 alone makes Interstate 25 one of the most dangerous roads in Colorado. Over a quarter of a million cars travel this section of the road each day and accidents are common. According to Denver police records, the majority of crashes are caused by following too closely, while other accidents are caused by illegal or improper lane changes, reckless or aggressive driving, and speeding.
Second, the 35-mile stretch of Interstate 25 from Longmont to Wellington has recently become known for its high number of fatal car crashes. Between 2009 and 2014, twenty-six people were killed on this stretch of Interstate 25 alone.
Interstate 70: This mountain-freeway is known for its high altitude, steep inclines, and underground tunnel, the Eisenhower Tunnel. Commonly used to reach ski resorts, this highway is known for congestion. In the winter, traffic can get so bad that the normally one-to-two hour drive from the mountains to Denver can take three-to-five hours.
If You Are Going to Drive These Roads, Drive Safely
If you plan to drive any of these dangerous roads in Colorado, be prepared. Make sure your tires are not worn and if it’s winter, bring along snow chains. If possible, drive a vehicle with front wheel or all-wheel drive. Remember to top off your windshield wiper fluid for maximum visibility and of course, check that you have enough gasoline to make the trip. Always follow posted speed limits and pull over before taking in the view or snapping photographs. Above all, remember to use common sense when driving the dangerous roads of Colorado.
And if you ever become involved in a wreck that somebody else caused, give us a call at the Law Offices of Dianne Sawaya, LLC. We’ll help you evaluate your case and get compensation for your damages.