Safe Driving is 'Key' on SR 67—Caltrans After Deadly Accident

Improvements on the winding highway are subject to funding restrictions and a multi-agency, complex analysis, spokesman tells Patch.

Motorists need to drive for the conditions on state Route 67, pay attention and allow another five minutes for the trip, Caltrans has told Patch in the wake of last week's deadly three-vehicle accident on the Lakeside-to-Ramona commuter route.

Friday's rollover just south of Mt. Woodson and sent four others to hospital. The driver of a truck, one of his passengers and two elderly people in a car all died at the scene, after the truck crossed the center divider, flipped and slammed head-on into two sedans. The accident happened on a curve near Rock House Road on a drizzly, foggy morning. The Highway Patrol reported the truck was speeding.

In a meeting with Patch this week, Caltrans warned drivers that they need to stay alert on SR67.

"That highway is different in different areas," Joe Hull, Deputy District Director of Traffic Operations said. "As people drive, there are changes in the number of lanes, the amount of shoulder room, whether there's a concrete median barrier or not. Also, there are people entering and exiting the highway and making turns. There are over 100 access points in the area from just south of Poway to Dye Road in Ramona. Drivers have to be aware and pay attention."

Hull said he tells people to allow an extra five minutes on the highway to get to their destination.

"Don't worry about being five minutes late if you encounter problems. It's better to be late than to drive unsafely," he said.

The steep, winding highway has been the scene of at least eight deaths in recent years. Four deaths in 2008, 2009 and 2010 were caused by "driver inattention or speeding," according to a Caltrans report referenced at the end of this article.

Caltrans is tasked with making only "incremental" improvements to highways, under the conditions of the agency's state funding, Hull said. The eight fatalities have happened in spite of improvements started in 2005, which have included re-striping, rumble strips, speed signs, daylight headlight signs, shoulder widening and median buffers in various spots along the highway, he said.

Though the majority of state funding goes to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) for local highway improvements, the two agencies work together, Hull said. Caltrans doesn't do any improvements that would cause an increase in traffic, he said.

SANDAG plans to make SR67 a four-lane highway from Lakeside to Ramona by 2030, under the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which can be viewed on SANDAG's website. That improvement is projected to cost $570 milliion, in 2010 dollars.

"The county supervisor really is the one that the public needs to get hold of and work with, because they have a seat at SANDAG," Hull said. He said SANDAG and Caltrans have "a great working relationship."

Patch requested comment on SR67 improvements from SANDAG and County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents Ramona, but no responses were received within the time constraints of this report. Jacob is in Washington, D.C. this week, her staff said.

So, Patch asked Hull about the outlook for SANDAG's proposed four-lane highway, in light of massive state funding cutbacks.

"The biggest restriction is definitely the amount of funding available," he said.

Caltrans will continue to study potential improvements to SR67. It has completed initial feasibility studies for possible adjustments to the area from Willow Road in Lakeside to Shady Oaks Drive, just east of Mt. Woodson and also for the intersection at Dye and Highland Valley roads at the entrance to Ramona, where traffic backs up during rush hours.

The initial study for Willow to Shady Oaks discussed three possible ways of improving SR67 and reducing "cross centerline accidents." They are:

  • removing the inside lanes to install a median barrier, which could be made of concrete, high-tension cable or metal;
  • installing the same type of barrier on the existing center line;
  • providing a 12-to-14-foot wide median buffer.

Work is under way to look at which alternative will be put into place, Hull said. The public will have a chance to provide input, just as in the case of the Dye Road intersection study in Ramona. Both will proceed this summer.

The process of determining how to improve SR67 isn't a simple one, Hull said. Some adjustments that might be considered improvement also have their down sides.

"Putting in lengthy vertical barriers can cause traffic blockages. If you have an emergency, like a fire at your house, or you need to turn around, you don't want that," he said. "No one wants to drive eight miles to turn around, so they can go back the other way if they made a mistake."

Also, although a concrete median barrier might stop a vehicle from crossing the center divider, it doesn't mean it will stop a fatality or bad accident, he said. Vehicles can hit the barrier and then get thrown back into traffic.

* The 2011 Caltrans report referenced in this article is "Project Study Report to Request Approval to Proceed with Formal Studies for SHOPP Project on Route 67 in San Diego County in or near Poway, from Willow Road to Shady Oaks Drive." The report was done in support of SANDAG's Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). SHOPP is the acronym for a state funding source used by Caltrans.

Joe Cahak May 31, 2012 at 04:34 PM
I was a founding member of the Highway 67 safety committee and represented RCPG. I brought the K Rail request to the Committee in 2004, CalTrans said they did not recommend the K Rails due to Emergency vehicle access and that inlane traffic accidents would increase due to cars being forced back into travel lanes, if they hit the median. CalTrans felt this was the more severe problem than the head on problem. In my opinion, their statistics did not account for the rumble strips that were added a year or so later. I now believe the rumble strips would cause increase loss of control and increase the head on accidents. I believe this was the case in this accident. Also in rebut to CalTrans, the K Rail does not have to extend the entire length of the highway. It can be constructed in sections, such as the curve where is accident occured, so people having to access the numerous driveways can still get around, without too much bother. They would have a small inconvience, and not have to drive miles to access their properties.
Joe Cahak May 31, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I think CalTrans is more interested in spending nothing on Ramona, than they are on really helping us. As an example of this, when after the last transportation summit, I made several safety recommendation for Hwy 78, including removing an oak tree that was 12 inches from the travel lane at the bottom of Hwy 78 in San Pasqual. After promising the community that they would promptly respond to our concerns, CalTrans took almost a year to address my concerns and cut the tree and clear brush to improve sight distance. The rocks that were sliding down from the hill side and had hit cars, tooks until this last winter to address, nearly 2 1/2 years. Great job CalTrans. You may have a great relationship with SANDAG, but you fail to address this communities concerns and issues in any meaningful manner.
Deb Stuckey May 31, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Drive 55 MPH on HWY 67 and turn on your headlights! The overall danger is the driver(s) exceeding the speed limit, tailgating, unsafe lane passing, and lack of attention to the road. Don't blame CalTrans and SANDAG! Take a good at your own driving habits! My family travels HWY 67 a minimum five (5) days a week, from 10th Street to Interstate 8.
Komfort May 31, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Is it time to remove the revenue trap disguised as a safety measure? What a scam. The actual code you are charged with is "Failure to obey a sign". There is no vehicle code to enforce a safety corridor headlight mandate. The text of the sign is unenforceable but failure to abide by the text gets you a couple hundred dollars more poor, and judging by this latest tragedy, no more safe. How about a sign that says "no driving while talking to your passengers". Whamo!! Failure to obey a sign. Cha-ching. We don't need no stinking vehicle code. Did you know about this, Joe, when you founded the committee?
Joe Cahak May 31, 2012 at 06:13 PM
I didn't found the committee, Supervisor Jacob did. I was a founding member. I'm not sure you are correct on the highlight. It was my understanding that if a highway area was made a Safety Corridor, then they could enforce the headlights on. I did not make that suggestion and had little say on it, that was CHP. I don't thinkthe headlights made much difference. Don't shoot the messanger, you seem quick to condem without provication quite a bit on Patch Komfort. The Safety Corridor was setup to increase enforcement and attention to the safety issue on Hwy 67. It served some purpose for a few years, until the State budget cuts reduced the budget for CHP to continue.
Things I Learned May 31, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Ann Runser May 31, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I think they should take a serious look at what they did to get barriers up on Highway 17 between San Jose and Santa Cruz, for years they said barriers wouldn't work on that highway, now most of the highway has them and it's help out a lot with head on collision. I'd rather drive a little longer to turn around instead of being in a grave. Every day I'm just happy to get to and from work alive. http://www.dot.ca.gov/research/operations/roadsidesafety/
Larry May 31, 2012 at 06:40 PM
I feel sorry for anyone who has to drive the 67.
Komfort May 31, 2012 at 06:50 PM
I condemned the "Safety Corridor", Joe. My provocation is the continued deaths despite the revenue scheme. I errored in describing you as the "founder" when you were actually a "founding member". I apologize for that. My question was not designed to shoot the messenger. It was to gain insight on the failed CHP program.
Brian Hanifin May 31, 2012 at 07:11 PM
The argument about allowing people to make U-Turns sounds like a lazy excuse. By all means lets make it so you can make U-Turns wherever you want no matter how unsafe it is. Lets remove all the barriers on the freeways, as long as it is more convenient for everyone. U-Turns should only be made at safe intersections. People die when you make U-Turns on highways. My mom did when someone U-Turned in front of her car on a trip to Palm Springs. But yes, I am so glad there wasn't a safety barrier on the road so that driver had the option to U-Turn willy nilly. By all means please keep encouraging people to make unsafe U-Turns on highways, after all it is more convenient.
Joe Cahak May 31, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Ann I am very familar with the Hwy 17 San Jose to Santa Cruz road. It did improve the safety there. Komfort the Safety Corridor program did work well for a couple years. It brought the increased inforcement that helped raise awareness of safe driving on Hwy 67and the accident rate decreased for a while. But the money to fund the extra CHP enforcement ran out in 2010 due to the state budget. Brian it was just 2-3 years ago a woman did a U-Turn in the highway by Ellie Lane and Hwy 67. A truck driver lost his life there trying to avoid her. This is a dangerous road at any speed. The safety issue is more than just speed, between reckless drivers, the varying lanes causing jocking for positon psychology, all the side traffic and distractions and the regular weather and fog. There is a lot to cause issues for drivers. They have the K rail on Hwy 67 south grade into Lakeside Hwy67 down Poway Road. So why not in this curvy section where this accident occured? There are only a couple residental driveways in that area, so impact would be minimal.
Komfort May 31, 2012 at 08:59 PM
At the bottom of Wildcat Canyon rd the State manages to fund two CHP officers to act as crossing guards. This is a nutty use of man hours. I think the enforcement that was effective, Joe, was done by actively patrolling and citing moving violations. Hiding behind billboards, Boss Hogg style, created resentment. Put a metermaid at Wildcat and Willow, sitting, and put the CHP back on 67, patrolling.
Brian Hanifin May 31, 2012 at 09:25 PM
My understanding is the officers at wildcat are working overtime shifts funded by the casino. So state money is not being wasted for that.
Joe Cahak May 31, 2012 at 09:27 PM
The CHP at Wildcat Canyon road was due to the light for the intersection being turned down. The residents didn't want the light as it would have widened the road and impacted the Joan Embry's ranch on that corner. For a while Barona funded the CHP officers, so it was not at Taxpayers expense. I do not know if they still do. There are a lot of accidents on Wildcat Canyon Road as well. So having CHP close by does improve response time. But you are right Komfort, this is funds that could have been used to help bring more enforcement to Hwy 67 and the whole area. We have very poor enforcement coverage this last 2-3 years due to budget cuts. I won't call it Boss Hogg style, as Ramona wanted this added enforcement. There are not many "hiding" spots on Hwy67 by the way. I always saw CHP in the open. I asked for the added enforcement for Ramona as their representative for the committee. By the way CHP officers were not citing people for less than 65MPH. They only target the worst offenders and I saw this on the road regularly. So Ramona and I support our CHP and will continue to do so. Everyone of them I have dealt with have been friendly, courteous and reasonable. They deserve our support.
Komfort May 31, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Boss Hogg may have been a reach, Joe. :-) When there is "seat belt" week or "cell phone" month, it becomes glaringly obvious how many officers patrol San Diego. People drive around scared out of their minds. The newscasters nearly faint. A show of force would do a lot more.
Things I Learned May 31, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Gail Serfass June 03, 2012 at 08:53 PM
I just recently moved to Ramona 4 years ago to be with my husband and I have driven on worse roads where I come from. Yes speed is a big problem on Hwy 67 but it is mostly the drivers. Let's remember that driving is a skill that comes with alot of practice and if you don't know how to handle yourself while you're driving your car, then you should not be driving. Personally I think 55 is alittle too slow especially if you are going up the incline. I have personally done 60mph and can compensate the curves correctly. If you don't compensate the speed and the curves of that road while driving, then you are going to have a major problem. The people that are traveling into Ramona, whether you live there or not, they have to realize that it is not a race to get home. Leave earlier from your beginning point or just deal with it. You will get home, it is not a race.


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