CDOT Warns Truckers of Dangers on US 160 Wolf Creek Pass

Beware the Wolf campaign cautions truckers of treacherous conditions on pass—even in summer

Drier roads and mild weather can mean safer driving conditions for most motorists. However, when traveling through Colorado's mountains, semi-truck drivers can encounter challenging and dangerous conditions regardless of the weather. CDOT is warning big rig drivers to use extreme caution when traveling over mountain passes, like US Highway (US) 160 Wolf Creek, in the Southwest region of the state.

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"The number of crashes over the years underscores the need to slow down over this mountain pass," said Bill Pentek, CDOT deputy superintendent of maintenance. "From 2011 to 2015, there have been 49 semi-truck crashes on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass. Two of those crashes resulted in needless fatalities."

Additionally, a majority of the crashes occurred at the switchback curve near the Wolf Creek scenic lookout area.

"This pass can be very deceiving to the traveling public," added George Hudran, CDOT maintenance foreman for Wolf Creek Pass. "The highway is wide, with three and four lanes along some stretches and ample shoulders. Many truck drivers are fooled by these road features, to only find themselves out of control once they've made it halfway down the pass."

CDOT conducted a road safety audit of Wolf Creek Pass during summer 2016. The results from that audit will help identify potential safety issues and possible opportunities for future safety improvements of the pass.

In the meantime, CDOT urges all roadway users, especially commercial truck drivers to be attentive to the road.

Beware the Wolf campaign cautions truckers of treacherous conditions on pass—even in summer

Beware the Wolf campaign cautions truckers of treacherous conditions on pass—even in summer

"The drivers of commercial vehicles and heavy trucks should always take time to familiarize themselves with their routes." added Hudran. "Knowledge and understanding of the road is extremely important when traversing over mountain passes, especially one like Wolf Creek Pass."

Wolf Creek Pass:

  • What is the speed limit?
    The posted speed limit for traffic traveling westbound, downhill from the summit varies from 25 to 45 mph. Commercial trucks must maintain the lower 25 mph speed.
  • What is the grade of the pass?
    The west side of the pass is at a 7 percent downhill grade.
  • What is the distance from the summit to the west base?
    The distance from the summit (near Wolf Creek Ski Area) to the west base of the pass (near Treasure Falls) is just over eight miles.
  • What curves will drivers encounter?
    A dangerous hairpin curve is six and a half miles from the summit of Wolf Creek Pass.
  • Are there public access areas on the pass route?
    A ski area, forest roads and a public scenic lookout are all points of access along US 160 Wolf Creek Pass in which truckers may encounter other vehicles attempting to enter or exit the roadway.
  • Where are brake stations, chain-up stations and runaway ramps?
    Truck drivers should inspect their brakes at the summit before descending the eight-mile trip down the pass. A wide shoulder area is available to all motorists traveling both westbound and eastbound. This area can also be used as chain-up station.
    Two runaway escape ramps are available for out-of-control trucks at mile points (MP) 162.5 and 161. See details about these runaway ramps below.

Other southwest/south-central Colorado passes include: US 550 Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank Passes; CO 145 Lizard Head Pass; CO 17 La Manga-Cumbres Pass; and US 50 Monarch Pass.

Even the most experienced drivers should practice the utmost caution and safe driving practices to keep control of their vehicles.

  • Check brakes before descending the pass.
  • Maintain a low speed, in low gear. Use flashers to warn other vehicles of the truck's low speed.
  • Do not "ride" the truck's brakes. This will cause overheating and possible loss of the brake system. Jake Brakes (or compression brakes) can be a useful braking mechanism to help control the speed of a heavy truck. However, the best practice is to remain in low gears to avoid overheating.
  • Keep brakes cool by pulling into brake stations or onto the shoulder of the road, if a safe spot can be located.

Two runaway ramps are on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass for trucks traveling downhill and westbound. These emergency escape ramps are on the right side of the road and preceded by warning signs at each location. Both are incline ramps.

  1. Runaway Ramp, MP 162.5 – approximately 4.5 miles from the pass summit
  2. Runaway Ramp, MP 161 – approximately 6 miles from the pass summit
    This location is a trucker's last chance to make a decision to use the ramp.

If drivers are forced to use a runaway ramp:

  • Maneuver the trucks into the far right lane before approaching upgrade ramps.
  • As the truck approaches the runaway ramp, steer straight and try to keep the wheels aligned.
  • Ramps are narrow. Attempt to stay in the center of the ramp to avoid any risk of rolling over.
  • Once the truck is stopped, call 911 to report the incident, even if there are not injures associated with the episode.

"If a truck driver has lost control, there should never be a hesitation to use the runaway ramps," Deputy Superintendent Pentek emphasized. "If a truck's brakes fail due to overheating or excessive use going downhill, runaway ramps are the only way the truck will be able to stop."

Truckers should also consider the load they are hauling. The goods carried on the trucks and in the trailers are essentially the drivers' income; there should be great concern protecting that commodity.

Pentek concluded, "There may be monetary consequences for using a runaway ramp—potential fees associated with a tow company's removal of the truck from the ramp or perhaps even a law enforcement fine. But not using the ramp can result in the ultimate cost: the irreplaceable life of a driver or the lives of those they share the road with."

While runaway ramps may be considered a last resort, the important thing to remember is: It is imperative to maintain control of the vehicle so use of these ramps is not required.

CDOT provides an abundance of information specifically for the trucking community. Members of the commercial trucking community can also find information about Wolf Creek Pass. The page contains tips on preparing for trips, using escape ramps, and knowing details about the pass. There, you'll fine a map of Wolf Creek Pass and a video of a commercial semi-truck that burned out its brakes while traveling too fast down the pass. The video is also available on CDOT's YouTube channel.

You may also visit COtrip, where truck drivers will find information about chain laws, chain stations, routes, traffic, I-70, hazmat, and permits.