- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) - Mailboxes along state or federal highways probably don’t come to mind immediately as traffic hazards.

But the Colorado Department of Transportation is conscious of them before embarking on highway widening or resurfacing.

A case in point is the resurfacing next spring of 15 miles of U.S. Highway 160 from Bayfield to Yellow Jacket Pass, a stretch where 90 mailboxes nose into the right of way of the well-traveled highway.

In anticipation of the project, CDOT is sending a letter to mailbox owners explaining the need to replace their potentially hazardous mailbox and its support, the Durango Herald reported (https://tinyurl.com/l5bakcb).

The agency has followed the same procedure before beginning recent highway projects in La Plata and Montezuma counties.

Any object along a highway that can cause damage, injury or death if struck by a wayward vehicle is a hazard according to the Federal Highway Administration, the CDOT letter says.

“Since nearly 50 percent of Colorado’s fatal traffic accidents involve vehicles that run off the road, mailboxes built to be aesthetically pleasing may be a hazard waiting to be struck,” the letter says.

Wagon wheels, railroad ties, plow blades, rock columns or other decorative objects used to support a mailbox therefore qualify as a hazard, CDOT says.

The U.S. Postal Service doesn’t regulate mailbox positioning except to assure carrier safety, said Dave Rupert, a corporate-level spokesman for the agency, in an email.

Boxes should be on the right-hand side of the road in the carrier’s direction of travel, have the opening 41 to 45 inches above the road surface and be set back 6 to 8 inches from the edge of the road, Rupert said.

State law governing types of mailboxes and their placement may be more stringent, Rupert said. Those requirements should be made known, he said.

If a mailbox in the public right of way is struck by a vehicle, its support post should collapse, a swingarm, if there is one, should swivel, and its box should shatter, said Nancy Shanks, CDOT spokeswoman.

In addition to the letter, Shanks said, CDOT engineers will visit owners of mailboxes with particularly cumbersome bases or foundations.

On the list is Lee Wood, the retired owner of a metal-fabrication shop in California who built a mailbox stand, which depicts a cowboy pointing a six-shooter and holding a sign that reads “Cash and checks only, no bills.”

Contacted Friday by telephone, Wood said he understands the rationale of the Federal Highway Administration requirement.

“I guess we’ll move it, but I want to leave it in sight,” Wood said. “It’s become a landmark. People give directions by it.”

CDOT has moved steadily toward meeting the federal safety requirement, Shanks said.

The Federal Highway Administration’s 1998 edict wasn’t a search-out-and-replace order, Shanks said. So CDOT is replacing mailboxes with each new road project.

Last week, CDOT installed 150 identical metal mailboxes as part of improvements on Colorado Highway 145 between Cortez and Dolores.

In 2012, the agency placed 18 new mailboxes when it widened and improved 1½ miles of U.S. Highway 550 at County Road 302.

CDOT also replaced 90 boxes on U.S. Highway 491 from Towaoc to Cortez.

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Information from: Durango Herald, https://www.durangoherald.com

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