Highway 49 Updates


Working together to make Highway 49 safe for everyone

By Deborah Jones 'Other Voices" The Union

Thursday, April 28, 2011

As the founders of Citizens for Highway 49 Safety, we would like to thank Brian Hamilton for his excellent article, “Preventing Tragedy,” which appeared in The Union, April 9. Keeping Highway 49 in the spotlight reminds us all of the constant danger of traveling our local Highway.

We, as a group, are still working with our local authorities and Caltrans to look for and identify problems and safety issues on 49 and to try to find solutions. Fighting to keep our designated safety corridor intact with all of its funding is a fight we just recently won with the support of supervisors Nate Beason and Ed Scofield.

One other very important safety measure that we are currently trying to find funding for, with the help of Supervisor Scofield and Higgins Battalion Chief Jerry Good, is a pre-emption device for the intersection of Highway 49 and Combie Road. This would allow our emergency response (fire) equipment to safely enter and cross an intersection that currently posts a speed limit

of 65 mph.

Imagine trying to cross Interstate 80 with emergency equipment and getting the traffic to stop. We are sure, as most of you have noticed more than once, many cars still do not even pull over to the right side of the road when they hear or see emergency vehicles approaching and trying to get by.

Accidents and near-misses have already happened at the intersection of Combie Road and Highway 49 when our firefighters have been responding to calls, and our goal is to help our firefighters get across Highway 49 safely by being able to control the signal lights. At this time, Caltrans has no funding for this project and does not see any in the future. This is a major safety issue that needs to be addressed.

At our Highway 49 Stakeholders Meetings, five minor safety projects that have been identified, with the help of Caltrans, are now planned for Highway 49 that will include Ladybird Drive, Cherry Lane, Smith Road, Carriage Road and Brewer Road.

We all also know that Highway 49 is and has been at over-capacity since the 1990s and funding has not been available to remedy this problem from McKnight to Combie Road. Therefore, even with the minor improvements made, we must continue to keep our focus on highway safety or the accident statistics could again increase to the serious-injury and fatal-accident levels of the past.

At this time, Bruce and I would like to thank one very important member of Citizens for Highway 49 Safety, Chet Krage, who has been an integral part of our group from the beginning. He has been invaluable to us with his knowledge of our local roadways and his presentation skills.

Also, Nevada County supervisors Beason and Scofield and former Supervisor Sue Horne have shown tremendous support for our goal in making Highway 49 safer for everyone along with Sgt. Mike Lawrence of our local CHP office.

Executive Director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission Dan Landon keeps our meetings running smoothly and we appreciate his help and valuable suggestions. Higgins Battalion Chief Good has also been a valuable asset in identifying problem areas on our highway.

As we keep working to find solutions to improve safety on Highway 49, we ask those drivers who travel the highway to please turn on your headlights so you are visible to other cars, stay alert and drive safely. Please report any suspected DUI or impaired driver you may see on the road. DUIs and impaired drivers are still a very serious issue on our highway.

Even one fatality or serious injury can change the lives of many people in ways hopefully most of you will never know. Let us all work together to make Highway 49 safer for everyone.

Deborah Jones lives in Grass Valley.

Highway 49 widening set to start next week

Deborah Kerr-Jones and Bruce Jones, of Citizens for Highway 49 Safety, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Highway 49/LaBarr Meadows Road improvement project Tuesday morning.
Photo for The Union by John Hart

The California Department of Transportation broke ground this week on its $29 million project to improve safety on Highway 49, but will now hope for an end to an extended wet weather season in order to get to work on the project.

The project, which will widen a 1.5-mile stretch of the main artery into Grass Valley, is slated to start next week, said Carol Herman, a Caltrans representative.

Highway 49 will be widened to four lanes between Little Valley Road, just north of Alta Sierra, and Cornette Drive, south of Grass Valley, but the project also includes the construction of frontage roads, right-turn projects, wider shoulders and the installation of traffic signal at La Barr Meadows Road intersection with the highway. Soundwalls will be constructed at three locations.

The project is planned for completion in the fall of 2012.

“There won't be any traffic-interfering work done during the daytime,” Herman said. “All traffic-interfering work will be done at night, between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Drivers should expect up to 10-minute delays.

“We're really trying to minimize the impact on traffic on the area.”

That will be good news for the more than 7,400 people who are estimated to drive daily Highway 49's unregulated intersections as they head down the hill to work in Placer, Sacramento and nearby counties.

According to the 2000 United States Census, 27.6 percent of Nevada County's work force commutes to jobs out of the county in all directions.

“Highway 49 is a convenient connector between Grass Valley and Auburn,” said Caltrans District 3 Director Jody Jones. “This project will make the journey safer for everyone traveling on this important Gold Country highway.”

More than 40 driveways and side roads in 1.5-mile area that directly enter Highway 49 will be rerouted, shifting access from those points along frontage roads to the intersection — and improving safety on the highway.

“It will enhance safety on that section of Highway 49 by eliminating all the side streets that go onto 49,” Herman said. “It will bring people coming out of those areas to one central light there (via frontage roads).

“It's clearly a safety project.”

Bruce and Deborah Jones, who helped found Citizens for Highway 49 Safety, were among several dignitaries on hand for the official groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday.

The Joneses, who were involved in a 2003 head-on collision on Highway 49, have been advocating for safety measures on the highway ever since.

“Even one fatality or serious injury can change the lives of many people in ways hopefully most of you will never know,” Deborah Jones wrote in a letter to The Union last month. “Let us all work together to make Highway 49 safer for everyone.”

In 2005, nine people were killed in collisions along a 15-mile stretch of Highway 49 between the Bear River and Grass Valley. Through stepped-up patrol by the California Highway Patrol, as well as the implementation of safety measures such as rumblestrips and roadway striping, fatalities dropped to a total of nine deaths in the five years that followed.

“Public safety has always been a top priority for Caltrans, and this project clearly demonstrates we are delivering on our commitment to provide safe highways for Californians,” said Caltrans Director Cindy McKim.

The $29 million project is being paid for, in part, by $7.6 million in Proposition 1B funding, which voters approved in 2006 and provides $4.5 billion statewide for such projects.

An additional $2 million for the project comes from federal American Recovery Reinvestment Act funding, Herman said.

DeSilva Gates, the primary contractor of the project, is based out of Dublin, Calif. Herman said she was not aware of any Nevada County contractors being involved in the project.

According to Caltrans, nearly $8 billion in Proposition 1B funds have been allocated for transportation purposes statewide. California has also obligated nearly $2.6 billion in Recovery Act funding to nearly 1,000 highway, local street and job training projects statewide, the agency reports.

Senior Staff Writer Trina Kleist contributed to this report. To contact City Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail bhamilton@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4249.

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