Making a left turn from U.S. 101 anywhere in the two-lane stretch between Crescent City and Brookings is a white-knuckles on the wheel crap shoot. Add a popular discount store in Smith River to the mix and you have a formula for disaster.
Not to worry, say the engineers at Caltrans. They did a study. The hired a consultant, who counted cars and concluded it just made no sense to build a left turn lane for the new Dollar General store under construction at Timber Boulevard.
Not enough traffic. Not enough risk.
OK. Let’s take a closer look at that study.
Last Feb. 17 — not even close to our tourist season — a private consulting firm from Sacramento showed up in Smith River to spend the day counting vehicles during what they call “peak” traffic hours.
They counted from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.: 416 cars, eight of them making left turns onto Timber. They counted from 4 p.m. until 5:45 p.m.: 494 cars, five of them making left turns onto Timber.
Well, at least we know what Caltrans considers our rush hour. Other than that, these are numbers that say everything and nothing.
First, because other than the Western Communications printing plant and another small manufacturing plant, there is nothing there. No destination retail store, yet.
More importantly, however, the count was taken off-tourist season when by Caltrans’ own past traffic counts, that stretch of U.S. 101 averages about 7,000 vehicles daily. During tourist season the count is closer to 9,000 vehicles a day.
But consultants can do magic. They cooked up a formula for extrapolating the probable number of left turns made by northbound traffic once Dollar General opens its doors. Their educated guess based on similar situations in other states, “The volume of traffic at the project access to U.S. 101 at Timber Blvd. will not justify a northbound left turn lane based on … guidelines.”
Apparently Caltrans also asked Dollar General the amount of traffic they expected at the new store. Keep in mind that Dollar General might have to bear a percentage of the estimated $500,000 cost of installing a left turn lane should the numbers warrant.
Dollar General, according to Caltrans, only expects about 41 cars in an eight-hour period. We’re left to imagine when that eight-hour period might be but, again, Dollar General has nothing but incentive to keep the numbers estimate low when negotiating with Caltrans.
David Morgan, chief of traffic safety for our Caltrans district, recently told a Triplicate reporter, “There has been one collision there in 10 years. One collision in 10 years doesn’t justify a left-turn pocket.”
Former Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander has another story.
Earlier this year, Alexander survived being rear-ended while stopped to make a left turn less than half a mile from Timber Boulevard. The car that hit him was doing 50 mph. Alexander had to be cut from the mangled wreckage that was once his car and life-flighted to a Redding hospital.
“Equally significant,” says Alexander, “just a couple years ago, a young lady, traveling southbound at about the same speed in mid-day, coming out of the big sweeping right turn just after Fred Haight Drive and precisely in the immediate location of the new Dollar Store, looked away only momentarily at her cell phone, causing her to crash into the vehicle in front of her, which in turn drove that vehicle across the highway into 101 northbound, instantly killing an elderly man coming that way.
“And shortly after that,” Alexander notes, “a young man driving south on the 101 just south of Lucky 7 Casino attempted to make a cell phone call, causing him not to see a pedestrian walking across the highway and killing him. His wife is a friend of mine and the pain still runs deep.”
Morgan says Caltrans will re-evaluate its study once Dollar General opens and if “a bunch of collisions start … Caltrans will suck it up and build a left-turn pocket if that’s what’s required.”
In other words, should your son or daughter or mother, father, brother, sister, wife, husband, grandfather, grandmother … anyone you care about and love … be seriously injured or killed, only then Caltrans will reconsider a left-turn pocket.
It is a callous attitude from an agency charged with building safe highways.
Del Norte County Supervisor Chris Howard represents the district and calls Caltrans’ decision “not acceptable.” Howard has heard from many upset by the decision but says Caltrans needs to hear it, too.
We couldn’t agree more. Here’s how:
Director California Department of Transportation
Director’s Office, MS-49
1120 N St.
P.O. Box 942873
Sacramento, CA 95814
P.O. Box 3700
Eureka, CA 95502
Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Del Norte Triplicate editorial board, which includes Publisher Cindy Vosburg, Editor Robin Fornoff and Managing Editor Matthew Durkee.