E-470 installing flashing wrong-way signs and adding white arrows to stop wrong-way drivers

Regular 8-foot signs too tall for impaired drivers

AURORA - Few things are scarier than driving down the freeway only to see another car coming at you the wrong way.

Traffic engineers tell 7NEWS that it happens 20 to 30 times a year on E-470.

Last year, one of the incidents ended in tragedy.

"We did have a fatality," said Neil Thomson, director of engineering and maintenance for the E-470 Authority.

"An elderly woman entered somewhere and ended up in the wrong lane," Thomson said.

A traffic camera shows the station wagon she was driving coming perilously close to oncoming traffic.

Moments later, the station wagon slammed head-on into an SUV, killing both drivers.

"Studies have shown that the majority of wrong-way incidents occur at night," Thomson said. "And the drivers tend to be alcohol-impaired or elderly."

Thomson said that drivers who are alcohol-impaired tend to focus on the road in front of their vehicle at a lower level.

He said that at 8 feet tall, the regulation wrong-way signs posted at each exit ramp may be too tall for impaired drivers.

So the E-470 Authority is placing new, solar-powered flashing wrong-way signs on the same posts just three feet off the ground.

Additionally, engineers are painting big, white arrows on the ramp to show which direction traffic should be flowing.

The flashing signs and painted arrows are designed to capture the attention of those who are focused only on the pavement ahead of them, Thomson said.

The first signs and arrows have been placed at the ramps on E-470 at 6th Parkway.

Flashing signs and arrows will be placed at 20 additional ramps by years-end; the remaining 16 ramps will get flashing signs and arrows early next year.

The project will cost $150,000. 

"The money comes from our capital budget," Thomson said. "In years past, we've spent money to install a cable barrier down the median. Driver safety is a priority."

Thomson said that the same technology that is used to monitor cars entering and exiting ramps for toll purposes can be used to detect cars entering the highway the wrong way.

"When we get either an eye witness or evidence on a security camera that there is a genuine wrong-way driver, then we dispatch the State Patrol out to investigate," he said.

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