on state Route 67, which cost three innocent people their lives, is just another graphic reminder how insufficient the highway is to the demands of traffic. But how much can we blame on an overburdened stretch of road?
Before we fully fault Caltrans’ apparent indifference to the lack of a center divide, shouldn’t we first address the real culprit here? The reckless drivers that continue to use this route as an Indy warm up despite the number of serious and fatal injury accidents. Before we get into the muck and mire of Caltrans’ lack of plans to truly fix SR 67, let me make this perfectly clear: Friday’s incident is a crime scene. This was not a traffic “accident.” An accident would imply that there were no controllable factors in this event.
And that is patently false.
The truth is, was the driver of the truck. A 20-year-old man who made a conscious choice to drive at a high rate of speed and apparently lost control of his vehicle, crossed the center divide and forever altered the lives of at least four families forever.
Friday’s weather was wet and foggy with slick roads and poor visibility. Yet despite the poor driving conditions and large signs posted along the highway that loudly state “Drive 55 and Save Lives” and “slippery when wet,” this young man made a conscious decision to speed without regard for the safety of others.
We cannot blame youth for all accidents on SR 67. What we can consistently do in the majority of these crashes is to put blame squarely on a lack of respect drivers have for the road conditions – which include weather and traffic flow. Unsafe speed is anything over the posted speed limit, and certainly faster than conditions allow.
After each one of these gruesome and heart-wrenching events is the demand for the installation of a K-rail or a concrete median. We imagine the dividers will create an impermeable barrier that will protect drivers from the possibility of meeting the same fate as Friday’s victims. But don’t look to Caltrans, SANDAG or the county to correct the problem anytime soon. Actually not anytime in the next 25 years, which is how far out the plans are currently set.
Quite simply, the upgrades for SR 67 through 2035 do not include the addition of safety measures such as K-rails or concrete dividers. The focus is on widening and improving Highland Valley/Dye Road and installing a signal at Archie Moore Road.
Some quick facts about 67: Caltrans has given it an “F” rating. Apparently an “F” rating doesn’t get you pushed up the fix-it ladder; it just means that Caltrans acknowledges the highway is a failure and does not meet basic traffic standards. If you read the January 2010 SR-67 Transportation Concept Summary, Caltrans’ greatest achievement apparently is the implementation in May 2007 of the “Drive 55” public awareness campaign done in conjunction with the California Highway Patrol. Considering the CHP takes the bulk of the crash reports up there, you would have thought something more than a tag line would be implemented. The ultimate goal of the “Drive 55” was/is to create a safer highway on SR-67. I think the “F” rating should also include “F” for “failed ad campaign.”
By the ever-increasing body count on that road, no one is paying attention and they most certainly are not driving 55.
Caltrans insists that the corridor analysis address each issue and improvement separately. But not one of those issues or improvements studied speaks to the need for a center median anywhere on SR 67 other than a 1.5-mile stretch between Slaughterhouse Canyon and Scripps Poway Parkway. In June 2009, Caltrans completed a project study project/project development report that proposes to add one general-purpose lane in each director from Mapleview to Highland Valley Road/Dye Road.
The Highland Valley Road/Dye Road intersection improvements are set to begin this summer but will do nothing to correct the lack of a barrier between Poway Road and Mussy Grade. Real improvements to SR 67 are not even anticipated to begin until 2035. SR 67 is 20 percent over capacity right now. The last study done in 2008 reported the average weekday daily traffic at 26,600. The most significant statement in the final June 2009 SR 67 project study and the one that ends the conversation on a center divide is a table that lists the 10-year-plan projects. There are no plans to install a median barrier at any point other than north of Slaughterhouse Canyon to Scripps Poway Parkway. There is a vague reference to “rehabilitate roadway” between Lakeside and the 67/78 junction, but no specifics. The use of the term “rehabilitate” could mean nothing more than re-striping and fixing potholes.
It is welcomed news that the Highland Valley/Dye Road intersection gridlock will finally be corrected this summer. But that’s it.
For those who drive 67, Caltrans is not going to build a barrier. Ever.
This means we are on our own and we are ultimately responsible for our driving behavior on SR 67. Unless and until drivers reduce their speed and drive like their own life depended on it, we will continue to see horrific, gruesome events. A K-rail or concrete barrier will do nothing to stop speeding. It will do nothing to prevent serious or fatal accidents. It may well prevent a vehicle from crossing over the center median, but it will do nothing to stop a driver who has lost control due to reckless or unsafe driving.
A concrete barrier will not prevent a vehicle at a high rate of speed from “bouncing” off and back into traffic. A median barrier will do nothing to prevent drivers from cutting each other off. So to those who must drive SR 67, do not look to Caltrans or the county to protect you from yourself. You, the individual, must take responsibility for speed on the road. You must drive defensively. Be aware of more than the car in front of you and directly behind you.
If you don’t know how to drive defensively, learn. If you’re a parent of a teen who drives that section of highway, demand they obey the speed laws or yank their license (you’ll pay for it one way or the other if your teen is at fault). If you’re an adult and you think SR 67 is your personal stretch of NASCAR track, understand that wherever you think you need to be, it is not more important than where the guy in the car next to you needs to be.
There are many repeat offenders who drive SR 67. My guess is until one of these drivers kills himself or someone else, that sense of moral superiority and entitlement will compel them to take even greater risks. And that is not the fault of Caltrans or Dianne Jacobs. We need to stop looking to government to fix our character faults.
You alone have the power to make SR 67 safe. And let’s face it—you just can’t fix reckless.