Robert McInnes cant drive into town without thinking about May 15, 2009.
That was the day he was rear-ended while waiting to enter U.S. Highway 160 at the intersection with county roads 222 and 223. The crash pushed his vehicle into an oncoming semi-trailer.
Every time I drive by it, I remember, said McInnes, 35, who had to relearn to walk and talk after suffering two skull fractures, eight broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a severe brain injury. I can still smell the smoke.
On Monday, McInnes was the first person to drive through the intersection at the new County Road 225A, which replaces the 222/223 intersection. Officials with La Plata County and the Colorado Department of Transportation invited him to cut the ribbon on the side of the highway.
CDOT officials said McInnes accident was the catalyst for moving the sketchy junction about one mile east into a valley where drivers wont be temporarily blinded at sunrise and sundown, as they were when McInnes was injured.
The new intersection is aligned in a traditional T shape rather than a Y and features improved sight lines and left-turn lanes.
It was one of the most dangerous intersections in the county, said County Commissioner Wally White, who said he drives through it about twice a week. Overall, I think this will be a huge improvement.
Four million dollars of the $8.4 million project cost is stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, $3.9 million came from CDOTs Regional Priority Program and $500,000 was paid by the county.
CDOT Traffic Safety Engineer Mike McVaugh said the accident that injured McInnes and the three other drivers caused the department to rank the hazardous intersection at the top of its to-do list.
Between early 1997 and the end of 2006, there were 32 accidents at the intersection, or about 3.2 per year. Half of those accidents involved injuries.
The project is not quite complete: Final paving on the south side of County Road 225A, grass seeding, ditch work and lane striping will be completed after a winter shutdown. The project should be 100 percent complete by May 2011, said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.
The 222/223 intersection still will be open for several more days, but CDOT plans to soon tie off the roads with culs-de-sac and gates.
In a twist, McInnes familys business, ABC Welding, won the bid to design and build the gates.
On Monday, he thanked CDOT for relocating the roads.
It will save lives, he said.