E-470: Fixing wrong ways right away


AURORA | Seeing a wrong-way driver motoring toward you on a highway is likely one of the most terrifying scenarios a driver can imagine.

On the E-470 toll road, officials have invested $150,000 in hopes that no driver has to feel that way again.

Wrong way signs are posted Oct. 16 near E-470 and East 6th Parkway. The tollway recently installed the signs to keep drivers from meandering onto the sometimes-rural roadways in the wrong direction. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

In early October, crews started installing new wrong-way signs along the 19-mile toll road and painting directional arrows on the pavement with highly-reflective paint.

“We’re hopeful the steps we are taking will eliminate some of these wrong-way driver incidents,” said E-470 Director of Engineering and Roadway Maintenance Neil Thomson.

The new signs are affixed to the same poles as the old ones, but they sit only about three feet off the ground and flash bright red, 24 hours a day. The old signs remain on the poles, too.

The bulk of the 20 to 30 reports of wrong-way drivers E-470 sees each year are either intoxicated drivers or elderly drivers, he said.

“Typically, impaired drivers tend to focus on the pavement in front of their car,” he said.

That being the case, Thomson said those drivers might miss the typical wrong-way sign, which is about 8-feet high.

Hopefully, the new signs will get their attention and they can stop and turn around before they speed down an off-ramp toward oncoming traffic, he said.

While the toll road sees more than 20 wrong-way incidents each year, Thomson said that thankfully, those incidents rarely result in a crash or injuries.

But in February 2011, a wrong-way crash killed a popular water polo coach. In that case, the Colorado State Patrol said, Grier Laughlin, 37, died after a Ford Taurus driving southbound in the northbound lanes of the tollway slammed into the Chevrolet Yukon he was driving. The driver of the Taurus, Odean Wheetley, 89, also died at the scene. Three children in the Yukon were taken to Children’s Hospital with minor injuries and survived, the Colorado State Patrol said.

Thomson said surveillance cameras along the toll road allow officials to see wrong-way drivers, and he hopes to track their numbers once all the new signage is in place.

The directional arrows have already been painted on each of the 26 exits, he said, and crews are installing the flashing wrong-way signs between now and next spring.