Jessica Cejnar / Friday, Aug. 6 @ 4:50 p.m.

Collision Involving Fuel Truck Thursday Renews Calls For Safety Improvements at U.S. 199 and Elk Valley Cross Road

A Nissan Frontier collided with a fuel truck at Elk Valley Cross Road and U.S. 199 on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Jeff Daniels

Following a Nissan Frontier vs. fuel truck collision on U.S. 199 at Elk Valley Cross Road on Thursday, Del Norte transportation officials are calling on Caltrans to make safety improvements at that intersection.

It’s not the first time the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission has asked Caltrans to make changes there. But this time, the commission may be willing to part with its entire Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) apportionment to make it happen, though it won’t be enough, says Executive Director Tamera Leighton.

“We only have slightly over $500,000,” Leighton told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Friday. “That’s not enough money to make this correction. But Caltrans has funding too and we’re trying to inspire them to solve it.”

Leighton said she’s proposing putting that CRRSAA funding toward a project initiation proposal for safety improvements at Elk Valley Road. But, she said, it’s a baby step — an important one — but “by no means a commitment” on Caltrans’ part.

“It needs to eventually be more than that, but I can’t bring something to my commission to make a decision if I have absolutely nothing in writing,” she said. “And I have nothing in writing right now.”

Leighton said if she has the information she needs from Caltrans by the end of this month, she would bring it to the DNLTC’s Technical Advisory Committee by its meeting Aug. 31. If that happens, the commission could then address the issue at its meeting Sept. 7.

In addition to bringing the matter up to Caltrans representatives again, citing Thursday’s collision, Leighton also reached out to California Highway Patrol public information officer, Brandy Gonzalez, and commander, Lt. Larry Depee, to obtain the collision report. She said Friday that she had yet to hear from either agency.

According to the CHP Incident Information Page, the collision occurred at about 3:03 p.m. Thursday and blocked all lanes at U.S. 199 and Elk Valley Cross Road. There were no injuries, according to the CHP, but the intersection was closed for about an hour and 20 minutes.

The U.S. 101, U.S. 199 and Elk Valley Cross Road intersection has been a concern for Local Transportation Commissioners for more than a decade, according to Leighton.

According to a 2020 Local Transportation Commission planning document, the Elk Valley Cross Road Corridor Plan, a total of 58 collisions occurred within the corridor between 2009 and 2018. This includes 23 injury collisions and one fatality.

The planning document called for widening paved shoulders and installing two-way left turn lanes or left-turn pockets on Elk Valley Cross Road between Lake Earl Drive and U.S. 101 and from U.S. 199 to Parkway Drive.

The plan also suggested potential safety improvements to the two highways. These included re-striping; reducing the four-lane approach to Elk Valley Cross Road from U.S. 101 to one lane in either direction as well as adding a roundabout; and adding signs and striping and possibly a traffic signal to U.S. 101.

Leighton said it’s up to the Del Norte Local Transportation Commissioners to decide how to use the agency’s CRRSAA allotment, but there’s a deadline by which those dollars must be spent.

“This is a tough decision for the region,” she said. “we also have needs on local streets and roads this money can be spent on — a culvert replacement project on Washington Boulevard; that’s a very important project that needs additional funding.”

Other dollars for an Elk Valley Corridor Safety Improvement Project could come from State Transportation Improvement Program Funding and Highway Improvement Program funding, Leighton said.

Though transportation agencies in rural regions were successful in arguing for a “no less-than amount of HIP funding,” STIP funding is based on a county’s number of lane miles and its population, Leighton said..

“Del Norte gets a very low amount of STIP funding — the third lowest in the state,” she said. “That’s because we don’t have a lot of highway lane miles. We have one road north and south and one road east and west and pretty direct routes.”

Del Norte Local Transportation commissioner, Supervisor Chris Howard, said the one fatality at U.S. 199 and Elk Valley Cross Road was the mother of a friend, but the intersection is confusing to motorists in general, both locals and visitors.

In June, Howard, Leighton and Caltrans District 1 Safety Officer, David Morgan visited the problematic intersection. Howard said what he watched occur shocked him.

“People (were) flipping U-turns in the middle of the intersection,” he said. “You could see people taking chances to race oncoming traffic coming down hill, but not looking to see if anybody’s coming at them on the east-west approach. I think I saw close to five near-misses in 17 minutes of being there. This is not a good thing.”

Howard pointed to safety improvements Caltrans has stated they will make at the intersection of U.S. 101 and Timbers Boulevard near the Dollar General store in Smith River, noting that the number of collisions there in four years allowed the department move forward.

In the case of Elk Valley Cross Road and U.S. 199, however, Caltrans has taken a slow approach, Howard said.

When asked if his colleagues would support using the Local Transportation Commission’s CRRSAA funding to address the issue, Howard said there’s no question in his mind.

“We’ve discussed it,” he said. “There’s obviously high priority projects for the commission. A lot of high priority projects have to do where there’s vehicle conflicts and we’ve had this now on our agenda for as long as I’ve been on the Transportation Commission as a standing issue. I know for sure that this is just not my beef.”


Elk Valley Cross Road Corridor Plan


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