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.