Jessica Cejnar / Thursday, May 27 @ 5:24 p.m.
Caltrans Decides Collision Data Warrants Safety Improvements Near Dollar General Store in Smith River
Caltrans is pursuing funding for a project meant to address an increase in traffic collisions near the Dollar General store in Smith River.
The project would include a left turn pocket, a right turn lane and potential widening near U.S. 101 and Timbers Boulevard, Caltrans District 1 spokesman Myles Cochrane told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. But it could be years before construction begins, he said.
According to Del Norte County Board of Supervisors chairman, Chris Howard, whose district includes Smith River, safety and congestion at that intersection has been a concern since the store opened about five years ago. Howard said several of his constituents expressed their concerns at a community meeting with Caltrans representatives David Morgan and Jaime Matteoli.
At a recent meeting with Morgan and Del Norte Local Transportation Commission Executive Director Tamera Leighton, Howard said Morgan decided that improvements were warranted after Leighton presented him with data showing that collisions had increased.
“Now he’s got the information that justifies action,” Howard said of Morgan. “Now he has to go through the process of doing the work with the other departments in Caltrans to put a plan together. How it gets funded and the design for it are the big steps, so it could be a long way out.”
There were seven collisions on U.S. 101 at Timbers Boulevard between January 2015 and Dec. 31, 2020, according to data the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission received from the California Highway Patrol.
One collision — a Jan. 2020 incident in which a vehicle struck a pedestrian — resulted in the death of a 37-year-old man, according to the data.
No collisions have been documented since January 2021, Leighton said, adding that the commission spoke with CHP Cmdr. Larry Depee. However, collisions that involve property damage only aren’t a consideration for safety projects, Leighton said.
“They should be,” Leighton said. “If there are a ton of property damage collisions, you’re going to end up with injuries and fatalities, but that’s not how the rules work.”
Of the seven collisions, five involved cars stopped at U.S. 101 and Timbers Boulevard being hit from behind by another vehicle. Two of those incidents resulted in serious injury. Another, occurring in January 2019, involved three cars and minor injuries to five children ages 4 through 15, according to the data.
Leighton noted that though safety projects happen comparatively quickly, improvements to transportation infrastructure is a slow process. It takes a lot of time, money and care, she said.
In the case of U.S. 101 and Timbers Boulevard, Leighton said, Caltrans had asked Del Norte County set standards for the developer of the Dollar General store. The county pushed back, pointing out that Caltrans is the owner and operator of the state highway system and has the money to make the necessary improvements, she said.
“It’s just an unfortunate system where until you have a problem that you can demonstrate with injuries, you cannot get a safety solution,” Leighton said.
At that community meeting years ago with his constituents, Morgan and Matteoli, Howard said both Caltrans representatives said they didn’t have enough data to justify at the time to justify the improvements.
“We do now,” Howard said. “And so it’s water under the bridge and we move forward together. And, hopefully, in the near-future we not only have the funding, but we have the designs for what I hope resolves the vehicle injury incidents at that location.”