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Durango-to-Purgatory Resort route a hotbed of activity

Law enforcement sees increase of DUIs, speeding during winter months on Hwy. 550
Colorado State Patrol trooper Gabe Watkins pulls over a driver Friday on U.S. Highway 550, north of Durango. Watkins and another trooper were assigned to increase patrolling on the highway from Durango to Purgatory Resort.

New technology allows Colorado State Patrol to pinpoint where hotbeds of activity are, and in winter, the bull’s-eye falls on the 25-mile route from Durango to Purgatory Resort.

Capt. Adrian Driscoll said every time troopers make a traffic stop or respond to a crash, that incident is logged into a database, which then allows CSP to identify areas where a high amount of activity is occurring.

“We rely on our data to show us where the areas are where we can best use our resources,” he said. “We’re consistently re-evaluating where the problem areas are.”

In winter, one of those target areas is the U.S. Highway 550 corridor between Durango and Purgatory Resort because of the increase in traffic with people going to hit the slopes.

Colorado State Patrol says U.S. Highway 550 between Durango and Purgatory Resort becomes a target area in winter as traffic increases with people heading up to the mountain to ski.

Driscoll said the data shows an increase of speeding tickets and DUIs during peak hours that coincide with the ski resort opening in the morning and closing in the late afternoon.

“Anytime you see an increase in traffic flows, there’s the potential for issues,” he said.

About a year ago, CSP’s Vehicular Crimes Unit developed the incident logging database, so when troopers clock in, they can pull up a map that shows what roads may be experiencing high use, based on the time and day of the week.

And the new technology is vital for the best use of CSP’s limited staff, Driscoll said. About 20 troopers are tasked with covering the entire area around Pagosa Springs, Durango and Cortez, he said.

Target areas shift on a daily basis, Driscoll said. One day, it might be U.S. Highway 160 from Elmore’s Corner to Bayfield, or another day, it might be Highway 550 from Durango to the New Mexico line.

With several inches of fresh snow Saturday at Purgatory Resort, skiers and snowboarders filled the parking lots to the point they were parking on subdivision streets east of the resort.

CSP in the past has partnered with Purgatory Resort on messaging about issues such as parking on the highway, but has never launched a concerted effort about safe driving, Driscoll said.

“We see an increase, but it’s not overbearing,” Driscoll said. “It’s not like Interstate 70 going over to Vail.”

Dave Rathbun, general manager of Purgatory Resort, said the resort’s staff members constantly monitor for people who may have had too much to drink, but many times, people bring their own alcohol or go drink at bars near the mountain.

“It’s not something we can control for every single person,” he said.

Dave Rathbun, general manager of Purgatory Resort, said with the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people are carpooling, resulting in more cars traveling to the resort about 25 miles north of Durango.
Purgatory Resort General Manager Dave Rathbun said one to two people are in each car that drives up to Purgatory Resort, which is out of the ordinary. Rathbun believes fewer people are carpooling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The big issue with traffic this year, Rathbun said, is more people coming to Purgatory in separate cars, likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is causing some issues on the highway and at the resort.

“There are a lot more vehicles on the road,” he said. “We’re seeing one to two people, per vehicle, routinely.”

Chris Burke, spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, said CSP takes the bulk of traffic offenses, but deputies will assist situations when needed.

He noted Highway 550 to Purgatory can become a problem area.

“It seems that after the lifts close there’s a mad dash back to Durango,” Burke said. “We hear more calls on the radio with people calling in speeders or illegal passing.”

Colorado State Patrol troopers Josiah Fuller, left, and Gabe Watkins meet to talk while patrolling U.S. Highway 550 on Friday north of Durango. CSP has relatively new technology that helps troopers identify areas of increased activity.

Law enforcement around the region is trying to fine-tune where resources should be deployed.

Durango Police Department Cmdr. Ray Shupe said the agency recently hired a crime analyst that analyzes crime data – where incidents occur, types of crime, frequent offenders, etc. – and pushes that information to patrol officers.

Purgatory Resort is one of Durango’s main tourist attractions in the winter, and with it comes increased traffic along U.S. Highway 550 north of town.

The analysis, Shupe said, also helps inform officers working different shifts what happened throughout the day and week. Examples of hot spots of crime include the area around Walmart, downtown Durango and local parks and trails.

“It’s working out great,” Shupe said. “We’ve been utilizing it quite a bit.”

Driscoll said staffing fluctuates constantly, but on average, one to three troopers work the area around Durango. So having them at the right spot, at the right time, is essential.

“We’ve always been doing this, but the technology has really caught up,” he said. “It’s real time now.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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