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CDOT stands behind timing of high-wind restriction despite 15 semi-truck wrecks in El Paso County

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Midway through Wednesday's wind storm, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced a travel restriction of high-profile vehicles. Before the restriction was enacted, semi-trucks were able to drive despite the high winds

According to CDOT, a total of 25 semi-trucks blew over across southeastern Colorado. Out of that number,15 of those trucks were traveling along Interstate 25 between Monument and Garden of the Gods Road.

Around 9 a.m., CDOT issued a restriction banning semi-trucks from driving on I-25 between New Mexico and Pueblo.

A little more than two hours later at 11:30 a.m., CDOT extended that restriction to include I-25 from the Douglas County/El Paso County border to the New Mexico border.

However, one semi-truck driver says the restriction came in too late.  

Thursday, 13 Investigates spoke with William Rankin as he was filling up his tank with gas near Monument. Rankin has been a truck driver for 20 years. On Wednesday, Rankin was driving south along I-25 to Fountain when the heavy winds rushed in.

"My cab was all the way to the right side of the lane, and the wind was pushing the (trailer) hard enough to where the back end of my trailer was on the left side of my lane," said Rankin. "It's a little white knuckle. You don't want to let go of anything and you're paying attention three times more than you normally would."

By the time he reached his destination in Fountain, he was scheduled to take a second trip to Denver. Rankin, however, says his employer pulled all their semi-drivers off the road after his return.

Rankin's white-knuckled driving experience through Colorado Springs was around 9:30 am. CDOT wouldn't issue restrictions for several more hours.

“They should close the thing down before it gets too bad," said Rankin. "From what I felt around 9:30, it was definitely too late.” 

Michelle Peulen - a communications manager with CDOT - says the department follows a strict threshold when they issue a high-wind restriction banning semi-trucks from a particular highway.

“Our procedure calls for sixty miles per hour wind gusts, or downed semi’s in order for us to enact a high wind restriction,” said Peulen.  

CDOT tells 13 Investigates they stand by their decision to pull the trigger on a high-wind restriction when they did.

“We hadn’t met that 60 miles per hour threshold yet," said Peulen. "We can’t just close the interstates. We have to have procedures in place, but we will definitely look at those to see if maybe they need to be changed based off this storm. The other thing is we saw several of those downed semi’s happen after we enacted a high wind restriction.” 

When the high-wind restriction is implemented for a particular highway, Peulen says semi-trucks or any high-profile vehicle is required to get off the highway and find shelter. That restriction is enforced by the Colorado State Patrol or local law enforcement agencies.

Besides El Paso County, ten other semi-trucks were brought down by the wind. Between Pueblo and New Mexico, four semi-trucks crashed. Six others were brought down by the winds near Lamar.

According to Colorado State Patrol, only two drivers in the state were injured after a semi-truck was toppled over by the wind.

So far crews have completely cleared 14 of 15 fallen semi-trucks. As of Thursday evening, the trailer for a semi remains on the shoulder of I-25 less than half-a-mile north of North Academy Boulevard.

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Dan Beedie


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