Once again we read about another car in the river, a fatality along the Highway 199 Smith River Canyon, just months after two men were killed as their car went off the highway and submerged in our wild river.
According to data from Caltrans, in the 10-year period beginning Jan. 1, 2003, there were 13 injury collisions with 18 injured parties at this same site, between mile post marker 10.3 and 10.6, most in passenger vehicles.
This latest accident adds another car in the river at this site where at least two other vehicles have been immersed before. I find it hard to believe there isn't a complete guardrail system along this long but fast curve. The middle of this gentle curve has a guardrail, but both ends do not. Obviously this creates a dangerous situation.
I have to ask: Has the Triplicate ever reported an accident where a
car went up and over or through a guardrail? I suspect not. So why does
Caltrans, with a great record of being safety minded, hesitate to
complete the guardrail along this obviously dangerous curve?
Where is our Del Norte Local Transportation Commission (DNLTC) in
requesting funds to have guardrails built along this stretch of Highway?
Why were they not built 10 or 15 years ago? The commission maintains
that they are concerned about safety on our highways, but continue
instead to press for spending their funding on construction projects
intended to allow for larger and extensive truck traffic.
Their persistent desire to spend $32 million on five Highway 199 and
two Highway 197 projects to allow up to 90 STAA trucks per day (Caltrans
estimates) to enter this narrow twisting highway, will leave the common
motorist exposed to many miles of dangerous encounters with longer
off-tracking trucks. Wider curves most often lead to higher driving
speeds when we should be slowing people down to navigate the dangerous
Smith River canyon.
These projects create little or no economic gain and reduced safety
for our community. I simply ask for common sense in how we spend our
scarce highway dollars.
I suggest it will be prudent for the DNLTC to focus their funding on
safety measures like guardrails, rumble strips, and slower posted
speeds. The west end of Highway 197 has a short but narrow 50-yard
stretch where one mistake will put a motorist directly down into the
river. Just last year a lumber truck flipped over here spilling its
entire load into the river. Why not fix this with a guardrail before
someone gets seriously injured?
Now would be a good time for the DNLTC to relinquish its misguided
STAA truck funding for Highways 199/197 and put it toward improved
safety measures like replacing the Middle Fork Bridge. Shifting funds to
the Last Chance Grade replacement would promote a project with obvious
economic and safety improvements for the citizens of Del Norte County.
It is my hope that our DNLTC Commissioners will give serious
consideration to these proposals before more lives are lost. We don't
need more and bigger trucks on Highway 199.
Don Gillespie is president of the Friends of Del Norte.