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Opinion: Loveland Pass is a much-safer — and only minutes-slower — option than risking a catastrophe in tunnel

In response to:  “Hazmat drivers want off Loveland Pass.”

As a 40-year truck driver who retired two years ago, I spent 30 years as a hazmat-tanker driver, hauling cryogenic liquids and chemicals, with 25 of those years hauling gasoline. I ran all Colorado mountain passes in all weather conditions.

All of Colorado’s mountain passes are dangerous. No doubt, Loveland Pass has the heaviest volume of hazmat tankers in the state.

We gas haulers are a small community, and over the years, I personally knew most of the drivers who perished on Loveland Pass. On Sept. 23, 2004, I almost became one of them.

Just after midnight, I was eastbound approximately a tractor-trailer length from the top of Loveland Pass. The weather was so intense — a complete whiteout with over 100-mph winds at the summit — that I was unable to continue. I set the brakes on the unloaded tractor-trailer (38,000 pounds of sleeper truck and trailer), while the winds violently rocked the truck until it tumbled down the distance of four football fields, crashing into the trees below.

Almost 15 years later, I still dream about it and can hear the trees snapping in my mind. But I continued to run the mountain passes even after that incident.

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And even after that incident, I believe under no circumstances should vehicle traffic mix with hazmat tankers in Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels. The risk is too great.

A loaded gasoline tanker carries approximately 52,000 pounds of gasoline. Think of it as a 52,000-pound IED in the tunnel.

I doubt there is a fire-suppression system that is capable of handling that type of incident in that confined space. There would not only be fire, but a massive explosion in the confines of the tunnel.

All air would be sucked out of the tunnel. You could compare it to a massive, explosive blowtorch out both ends of the tunnel. No one would survive in the tunnel or near the entrances. The tunnel structure would be compromised or destroyed.

There would be a loss of life, including Colorado Department of Transportation workers in the complex. Fire trucks would not be able to be deployed into the tunnel, even if anyone survived the initial blast. Firefighters do not extinguish gas-tanker fires; they simply use water to cool the fire down. The fire burns itself out.

Chemical or cryogenic liquid trailers also come with their own dangers: a leaking trailer after a collision. Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen are explosive. Think the space shuttle Challenger explosion. A liquid-nitrogen leak would suffocate everyone in the tunnel.

Regarding the trucking industry, which says drivers lose too much time going over Loveland Pass, an experienced driver loses only 15 minutes each way — or 45 minutes maximum round-trip — regardless of the weather because the terrain requires slower speeds.

Weather nominally affects the time. The time lost, the inconvenience and the risk to the life of the driver are minimal compared with the possible catastrophic loss of life in a tunnel explosion.

If the pass is open, regardless of the weather, tankers have to go over Loveland Pass.

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