We all know there is a lot wrong with U.S. Highway 285. 

Exiting or entering the oft-congested thoroughfare is a nearly impossible feat much of the time, and worst of all, it is absurdly dangerous.

Whichever you find yourself doing – exiting or entering – it will either require accelerating from zero to 60 very quickly, which my car doesn’t do especially well, or decelerating from 60 to zero with a long line of traffic and angry drivers breathing down your backside.

Either way, you are going to slow down the flow of traffic, and either way, you are going to make fellow commuters unhappy; not ideal circumstances in which to begin your morning commute.

Much has been said and written with regards to short and long-term solutions for making U.S. Highway 285 a friendlier route to travel, and it is abundantly clear at this point that there will be no overnight miracles or simple remedies. 

Making U.S. Highway 285 equipped handle the increase in traffic it has absorbed in recent years will take considerable time, planning, and of course, an abundance of funding that CDOT never seems to have at its disposal. 

We are all fortunate to live in this amazingly beautiful setting, and we are all significantly burdened by the inconveniences and dangers that U.S. 285 presents on a daily basis. 

In other words, it is our choice to reside here and we are all in this together.

As a rule, those of us in mountain communities understand our common challenges and help our neighbors whenever high country curveballs are thrown our way. 

When a hungry or mischievous bear enters our neighbor’s house as an uninvited guest, for example, we will likely lend assistance or at least let them borrow our cell phone to call animal control or wildlife officials. 

If our neighbor’s vehicle is stuck in a snowdrift and he or she is walking to get help in a blizzard, odds are good that we stop to offer a ride. 

I would do the same because that’s just how we operate in mountain communities. 

That is, unless we’re driving on U.S. Highway 285 

Why don’t we extend that same goodwill and mountain community kindness to one another when we are driving on U.S. Highway 285? The same neighbor who would be happy to help during emergencies of virtually any kind, turns into someone completely unrecognizable when driving on what is already one of the state’s most deadly highways. 

We tailgate one another as though we’re competing in a stock car race, knowing that if a sudden stop was required then a wrecker, an ambulance, the coroner, or all three could conceivably be required at the scene. 

We also honk on a whim whenever our progress is impeded in any way. 

If someone has to stop and wait for oncoming traffic to pass before executing a turn, they might not actually be conspiring against us. 

It might not be a personal thing. They probably legitimately need to turn. So why do we feel the need to make them suffer for that?

Many of our actions and mannerisms on U.S. Highway 285 resemble those of Denver drivers, rather than what one might expect of people in mountain communities. 

That’s right … Denver drivers. Does that get your attention? Many of us live up here in large part just to avoid that type of behavior, don’t we?

Something needs to get our collective attention when traveling northbound through the light in Pine Junction. Why does everyone want to pass there when the sign clearly illustrates which lane is supposed to merge? It shows, with a simple illustration any fifth-grader could understand, which lane merges and which one doesn’t. 

Even so, merging drivers storm through the intersection to vie for position and to gain one more spot in line before it drops down to one lane. They do so as though their lives depend on it. If one doesn’t protect some space and bravely claim his or her rightful path through the merge, then a half-dozen cars will generally fly past at the last possible second. 

They don’t say so verbally, but what they are communicating is that even if they have to risk our safety to gain a second or two, then so be it. They want to improve their position by at least one car at every opportunity, and any impact that has on others is seemingly irrelevant. For them, it is worth it. For them, it’s a no-brainer

“No-brainer,” it seems, takes on multiple meanings in these instances. 

Our temperament, it seems, is even worse than our driving, if that’s possible. We shout obscenities and offer up disrespectful gestures as though it’s a requirement of some kind.

I have recently seen, on numerous occasions, drivers passing in no-passing areas across double-yellow lines, sometimes forcing oncoming traffic completely off the road in the process. 

That oncoming traffic doesn’t just consist of cars, trucks and other hunks of metal. That traffic also consists of real human drivers and passengers – people with families and friends – people we very likely know. 

What if kids are in the oncoming car? Does that matter, or are their lives like all the others, less valuable than the 1.4 seconds being saved by advancing one place in an endless caravan of automobiles all traveling at the same speed?

Come on, folks … we’re better than this, aren’t we?

This issue isn’t about how we dress, or whom we vote for in November. It’s not a periphery issue like our favorite color, or our favorite musical artist. This is an issue of life and death in many instances, and it is astonishing that gaining a second or two takes precedence over that for so many of us. 

“I’m sorry” won’t suffice.

Somehow we seem to have adopted the mentality that what we do in our cars is not necessarily a reflection of our character. But how we drive is in fact a direct reflection of our character, and it’s also indicative of how much we value the lives of other drivers and passengers.

Having said that, “I’m sorry” probably won’t be nearly enough to repair the irreversible damage when our impatience on the highway predictably results in lives lost. Would “I’m sorry” be enough for you if your son, daughter or spouse was injured or killed because someone was passing in no-passing zone in order catch the first pitch of a Rockies game? I’m guessing not. It wouldn’t be enough for me, either. 

We don’t just have to live with our neighbors. We also have to live with ourselves. So why take unnecessary risks that could never be reversed if they didn’t work out as planned? 

Even if someone causes no accident while tailgating the car in front of them all the way from Pine Junction to Shawnee, it is still a deplorable message they are sending. They are saying their fellow commuter’s personal safety is less important than finding a way to pass. And if they can’t pass, their rage begins to build because the person in front of them is driving to slowly for their taste.

They will eventually pass, and will likely express their dissatisfaction with others for driving the speed limit, or even slightly over the speed limit, as they fly by. It is offensive. It is personal. It is shallow and childlike, and it is clearly an ugly indictment upon the very character of said driver. 

Perhaps the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles should devise an exam to determine the maturity and human compassion levels of driver’s license applicants. If the DMV did require such an exam, based on my experiences while traveling U.S. Highway 285, there would be far fewer cars and drivers on the road.

U.S. Highway 285 is in dire need of updates and improvements, and as currently constructed, is woefully inadequate to handle the volume of traffic it hosts on a regular basis. That seems indisputable.

But even so, those inadequacies are unnecessarily magnified when excessively high speeds and drivers with discourteous dispositions are thrown into the mix. At that point, U.S. Highway 285 becomes more than simply inadequate. Instead, it becomes the notoriously dangerous killing zone that it has become today.

So let’s work together to negotiate the long and tiresome process of improving U.S. Highway 285, rather than killing or maiming each other over a few lousy seconds. Let’s do what people in mountain communities are known for doing – looking out for each other, rather than just themselves. Let’s do better. Let’s start today. 

Our lives, and the lives of our neighbors are worth it. Wouldn’t you agree?

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