Madeline from Wheat Ridge writes, “What's driving you crazy? A high number of drivers make an illegal left turn off of Ridge Road onto Ward Road in Wheat Ridge. We’ve had at least 6 car accidents in the intersection in the past few months from people making illegal left turns.”
That intersection, Madeline, might not be as dangerous as you believe. When I was out there last week, I watched one of about every ten drivers make that illegal left, but what I saw more often were drivers not knowing how to make the right turn the way it is designed.
Ward Road doubles as Colorado State Highway 72 so I first talked to CDOT about why there is a prohibited left going from westbound Ridge Road to southbound Ward Road. They tell me the intersection is poorly spaced for signalization. In other words, due to the existing nearby signals at 52nd Ave. and 48th Ave., Colorado Department of Transportation engineers believe there are adequate connections served through the local street network that allows drivers to make a left turn onto Ward Road at those locations. They also say that installing a signal at Ridge Road would significantly degrade the operation— or traffic flow— of Ward Road.
As far as numerous crashes at that intersection, I had Alex Rose with Wheat Ridge Police look into that and he told me they did not respond to any crashes at that intersection in 2022, but they’ve had four collisions so far in 2023. The first one involved two drivers going opposite ways on Ward Road when the southbound driver turned left towards Ridge Road in front of the northbound vehicle.
The second one happened when someone traveling westbound on Ridge Road turned right onto northbound Ward Road and into the side of a northbound vehicle. The third wreck happened after two drivers, who were both going north on Ward Road, slowed as the lead driver made a right turn onto 50th when the lead driver was rear-ended by the second driver. And the last crash this year happened like the first one, where a southbound driver on Ward Rod, turned left at Ridge Road in front of a northbound driver, causing the accident. Generally speaking, it looks like the driver trying to turn left from southbound Ward Road onto Ridge Road is more of an issue than drivers turning from Ridge Road illegally to southbound Ward Road.
CDOT tells me the majority of crashes are likely related to congestion in the corridor, and adding another traffic signal to this area could make the problem even worse as traffic signals are known to increase the frequency of rear-end crashes.
Rose told me if someone makes that illegal left turn, it would fall under Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-603 “Failed to Observe a Traffic Control Device” with a 4-point violation and a $120 fine.
Finally, I asked CDOT if they have any planned changes to Ward Road to further discourage the illegal left turns that drivers still make here. They told me they are considering a physical restriction in the future by constructing a raised median. But there are no immediate plans to do so, and no funding has been identified to build such a structure at the present time. I talked to a local contractor who said, with all that is involved in constructing a raised median, it is probably too expensive for what it’s worth.
Circling back to my point about drivers not knowing how to make the right turn the way it is designed, that right turn flows into a continuous lane. In other words, you have your own lane you turn into. You aren’t supposed to stop and wait for a gap in traffic. You make the right turn by using the dedicated lane then merge left when space is available. That design allows traffic to keep flowing.
Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on any podcast app including iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Podbean.