About a week and a half after a Smith River man was killed in a traffic collision on U.S. 101, residents had tough questions for Caltrans representatives David Morgan and Kevin Tucker.
Residents at a meeting of the Smith River Neighborhood Watch on Wednesday told Morgan and Tucker about near-misses, traffic collisions and congestion on U.S. 101. They also brought up problematic intersections, including the need for left turn lanes, at Wilson Lane, Morrison Creek Road, Rowdy Creek Road and Timbers Boulevard where the new Dollar General store is located, as well as the need for a center lane in general.
“Is there a way to expedite a solution instead of paying for it with human injuries because it is a big deal,” volunteer firefighter Dan Floyd said. “I don’t want to point fingers. Smith River is kind of growing and developed into a trap for people and it shouldn’t be a trap for people.”
Del Norte County District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard, who represents Smith River, kicked things off by describing the “angst” that has been building over increased traffic congestion between Fred Haight Drive and the Oregon border. He noted there has been a lot of discussion about near-misses since the Dollar General store was built and the issue has come before both the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission and the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors.
However, the death of 80-year-old Jose Isabl Soltero Heridia, a passenger in a vehicle that was hit by another just north of Sarina Road on July 29 “hit home for a lot of us,” Howard said.
Howard noted that Heridia was the father of one of his staff members at Alexandre Dairy.
“(We) wanted to get this all out on the table and see what could be done, what direction we could go to and make sure residents are fully clear that if there is a direction we can move in, how can we get behind Caltrans to support whatever that direction might look like,” Howard said. “I think Caltrans, not being here and not having eyes on the ground with this section of highway all the time, need to hear directly from residents in Smith River just what’s happening with those near-misses out there that many of us feel very unsafe with.”
For his part, Morgan, chief of traffic safety for Caltrans District 1, told residents that anecdotal information about near-misses can help get more traffic-safety measures to the area. But, he said, if he doesn’t know about them it’s hard to do something about it.
“What I have before me is the documented risk, the documented collision from (the CHP),” Morgan said. “That’s all I know is from that.”
Morgan also spoke of a U.S. Department of Transportation Tiger Grant installed radar feedback signs letting motorists traveling through Smith River know how fast they’re going.
The grant was awarded to the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, which used it to install colored islands and a right turn lane at Fred Haight Drive. The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation also installed signs encouraging motorists to slow down to 45 mph, although many residents pointed out that was not a mandatory speed limit.
However, Morgan said, traffic is better now than before the Tiger Grant was implemented. He noted a lot of people don’t know the difference between the black and white signs informing motorists what the mandated speed limit is versus the yellow signs with the recommended speed limit.
“I got nothing but constant complaints when those went in because people were saying people are going too slow for too long,” Morgan said. “Going too slow for too long, I like that problem!”
Morgan noted traffic studies have recorded an annual average of 7,500 cars per day on U.S. 101 through Smith River.
In 2016, Morgan told the Triplicate that after conducting two different traffic studies, Caltrans determined a left-turn lane onto Timbers Boulevard at the Dollar General store wasn’t justified. He noted at the time that there was one collision at that intersection in 10 years, which doesn’t justify a left-turn pocket.
On Wednesday, one resident said a bottleneck of traffic has been created despite the recommended reduced speed limit in some areas and what’s really needed are left-hand turn lanes.
“They didn’t do it at Rowdy, they didn’t do it at Dollar General. They just finished working on the road up there, there’s no reason why they couldn’t put in a left hand turning lane, there’s space for it,” she said. “This time of year from the March until the end of October, we have a whole lot more traffic. It’s typical. It’s our traffic time with all the tourists. We want that. Slowing down to 45 or 35 doesn’t fix it, what fixes it is a left hand turning lane and wider shoulders.”
Mason said if there are enough near-misses reported to him he could set up cameras to monitor things so that he can record the near-misses and have them on video. This was receptive to many residents, who encouraged him to install a camera at the intersection of U.S. 101 and Timbers Boulevard.
Howard noted that he himself has reported two near-misses at the intersection of Elk Valley Road and U.S. 199 to Caltrans using a database created by Tamera Leighton, executive director of the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission. He noted the crowdsourcing tool Leighton created about a year ago gives people an avenue of documenting near-misses or any other concerns they have regarding transportation.
“If you felt that whatever you saw was dangerous then that’s what you should really report,” Howard said. “That’s what David’s going to need to know in order to... advocate for us.”
The Local Transportation Commission developed its crowdsourcing tool with help from consultant Jeff Schwein of Green DOT and London-based Commonplace. The tool can be found at https://delnortetransportation.commonplace.is/. The crowdsourcing tool can also be accessed from the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission’s Facebook page.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .