Highway 49 Updates

Meeting Held March 22, 2017 at Bear River High School

Left to Right:

Morning drivers brave the wet conditions on Highway 49 near Alta Sierra Friday morning less than a mile away from the location where a head on collision killed Nevada City's Michael Joseph Fitzpatrick, and San Ramon's William Alexander Tonis.

George Anderson, whose wife and daughter were involved in a head-on collision on Highway 49 two years ago, voiced his support for a center median on Wednesday at the Citizens for Highway 49 Safety meeting at Bear River High School. I thought (Caltrans') arguments against the median were weak, really weak,  he said.

Grass Valley CHP Commander George Steffenson praised the Nevada County community for taking an active role in improving Highway 49's safety. People work collaboratively to try to either fix the problem or try to make the problems better. This was a perfect example.

District 3 Traffic Safety Investigator Darryl Chambers said Highway 49 improvements would likely be small and incremental. The major projects are going to take time. They always do.

Citizens for Highway 49 Safety meeting gives community a voice

Chet Krage works with Citizens for Highway 49 Safety, which was founded more than a decade ago by Bruce and Deborah Jones after the couple was in a head-on collision on Highway 49.

 

The push for more safety measures on the Highway 49 corridor continued on Thursday with a special meeting of the Nevada County Transportation Commission and SR 49 Stakeholders Committee at the California Highway Patrol's Grass Valley offices.

Community members and various organizations, including the Citizens for Highway 49 Safety, shared information and exchanged thoughts on the ongoing concerns over the Highway 49 corridor between McKnight Way and the Bear River, which is the Nevada/Placer County line.

Despite reduced numbers in accidents and fatalities in the decade since the Citizens for Highway 49 Safety's creation, three recent collisions resulting in five deaths have brought the topic into sharper focus.

STATISTICS

In 2016, there were 124 collisions along the corridor.

There were 48 accidents causing injury, three head-on collisions and no fatalities (the December crash that killed Bear River seniors Jude Douden and Joseph Rantz occurred in Placer County, outside the Grass Valley CHP's jurisdiction).

Over the past three years, there have been 291 collisions, two of them fatal.

Compare that to a decade ago, when the three-year stretch between 2004 and 2006 saw 314 crashes and nine fatalities.

TOO FAST

The two biggest concerns, arguably, from community members is speed enforcement and the lack of a center median.

In 2016, 49 of the 124 collisions were found to be the result of speeding (40 percent). The numbers were similar in 2015 (37 percent) and 2014 (35 percent).

The CHP wrote 393 tickets last year, an average of just more than one a day, 170 of them for speeding.

"I'm hopeful we'll see increased enforcement," Nevada County Transportation Commission Executive Director Dan Landon said.

Bruce Jones, who started Citizens for Highway 49 Safety along with wife Deborah more than a decade ago after the two were injured in a 2003 head-on collision on Highway 49, said the CHP's presence is just as important as the citations written.

"It's important," said Bruce Jones. "It slows traffic down, just being out there."

CHP Commander George Steffenson addressed enforcement, saying he'd been given the green light for overtime to increase patrol on the corridor. He doesn't have any numbers yet pertaining to how many more patrol hours he'll have to work with.

"I'm going to try to get as much as I can," Steffenson said. "I can make you this promise: My officers will be out there every day … I know my bosses are trying to get us more bodies, too."

CENTER MEDIAN

A center median would reduce head-on collisions and limit the damage in other crashes, but it's not a perfect solution.

"Barriers can help, but they also bring with them a new set of problems," Caltrans Safety Investigator Darryl Chambers said.

For one, there are a lot of driveways along the corridor, and barriers would limit access and increase travel time. They would also limit emergency vehicles, force Caltrans to widen the road in both directions in some spots and force road closures in the event of a major accident.

Also, while a median would limit the severity of crashes, a fixed object would likely cause more accidents, Chambers said.

"I'm not opposed to a barrier," Landon said. "It just has to be what's best and most cost effective in that location."

And then there's the reality of funding such a project. A median along the 13.6-mile stretch of highway would cost about $100 million.

Chambers said the focus will likely be on trouble spots and adding safety measures, possibly including a center median, in a series of smaller projects.

"I would say from a resource standpoint, incremental improvements are the reality," he said. "I can say my district director is going to tirelessly turn over every rock trying to find funding."

CULTURE CHANGE NEEDED

One of the most important aspects to improving safety, and one of the most difficult to execute, is changing the culture, Steffenson said.

A recent State Farm survey concluded 36 percent of drivers admitted to texting while driving, while 29 percent said they access the internet while behind the wheel.

That number goes up dramatically in the 18-29 age group, with 64 percent saying they text and drive and 54 percent admitting they go online.

"The culture change is going to be difficult," Steffenson said.

Accurate statistics on texting and driving, and how it relates to collisions, are impossible to discern for one simple reason: Drivers lie. Unless there's an eyewitness or material evidence, there's simply no way to know.

According to Steffenson, outreach is the best approach to changing culture. The Start Smart classes aimed at helping new or soon-to-be drivers are one approach. Using social media, public education, community meetings, posters and traffic alerts are others.

"What my guys see is that culture shift and (needed) education," Steffenson said. "Being courteous and kind would take care of a lot of our crashes."

To contact Staff Writer Stephen Roberson, email sroberson@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

Fatalities turn focus back to Highway 49: Citizens push for barriers, increased enforcement

Safety has long been a concern on Highway 49, but recent fatalities have brought the sometimes harrowing driving experience further into focus.

Since Dec. 15, there have been five fatalities involving three accidents on the corridor between north Auburn's Dry Creek Road and south Grass Valley's McKnight Way, which has no center divider. Two of the accidents involved vehicles crossing into oncoming traffic.

Devon Rantz lost his son, Joseph, a Bear River senior killed along with best friend Jude Douden in a head-on collision on Highway 49 near Dry Creek Road on Dec. 15.

"I think if there was a median in the middle it would prevent a lot of accidents that happen like the one with my son as far as head-on collisions and people crossing lanes," Rantz said.

Rantz is relatively new to the area. He moved here from Seattle with his wife, who's from Nevada County, three-and-a-half years ago.

"I didn't have as much experience of the dangers of Highway 49," he said. "My wife did. She graduated from Bear River and she had a friend killed on 49. It's a common story on that highway. I'm sure she's thought about it more than I have."

Rantz is one of many who've lost loved ones on Highway 49.

In 2005, Kelcie Armbruster lost her brother, Christopher Leighton, who had just graduated from Placer High. Leighton crossed over the double- yellow lines at Combie Road and was killed in a head-on collision.

Armbruster said she believes the speed on Highway 49 is as much of a factor than the absence of a barrier, if not more.

"I think speed is a huge factor on that road," she said. "I think (enhanced enforcement) helped tremendously, but I definitely think they need to do more. I don't know if it would be feasible, but maybe a center divide like they do on freeways would help."

IS IT GETTING WORSE?

While tragedies have been frequent in recent months, the overall trend since 2003 has been one of improvement. On Highway 49 from Grass Valley to the Placer County line, where more than 30,000 vehicles travel every day according to Caltrans, there have been 53 fatalities since 2003. That's an average of close to four per year.

Since a number of improvements in the mid-2000s, fatalities have dropped. From 2003 to 2006, there were 20 deaths, or an average of five per year. There were seven fatalities in 2005 and six more in 2006.

Since 2007, there have been 33 fatalities, or an average of just more than three per year. That number includes the anomalous 2012, when there were seven deaths. Outside of 2007, fatalities have exceeded four just once, when there were five in 2009.

"What we've had (recently) is a number of tragedies in a short time period, but there's nothing in the statistics that shows an increase in incidents," said Greg Tassone, the Grass Valley California Highway Patrol public information officer.

IMPROVEMENTS

A number of improvements along the corridor have made things safer. Hold signals, like the one at Combie Road, delay a light from turning green for up to five seconds after the opposing light has turned red, preventing collisions between those pushing a red light and those getting a head start on the green.

"That's absolutely played a role in increasing safety," Caltrans District 3 spokesperson Liza Whitmore said.

Rumble strips, bumps in the road that alert drivers when they've drifted outside their lane, were also put in place. Installation was the result of community pressure, encouraging Caltrans to take action.

"That's why we love to hear from our constituents to know where there's room for improvement," Whitmore said.

The La Barr Meadows Road interchange was overhauled in 2010, drastically improving the flow of traffic.

Other measures included increased traffic enforcement, a daylight headlight mandate, signs imploring drivers to maintain safe speeds, widening the corridor to allow more space between oncoming traffic, and repaving Highway 49 two years ago with reflective markers.

ENFORCEMENT

Back in the mid 2000s, Highway 49 from Dry Creek Road to McKnight Way was given a safety corridor designation, making Caltrans and CHP eligible for various grants to improve safety and beef up enforcement.

Currently, the CHP patrols one to two officers on the corridor 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also receive additional help from outside agencies and local officers who patrol on their time off.

The CHP also splits their shifts so there's patrol overlap.

"We try to overlap those shifts so we have more officers on patrol during those trouble times when we see increased traffic," Tassone said. "We know there's a direct correlation between enforcement and fatality collisions based on how many officers are on patrol."

ALTERNATIVES

There's a lot that can still be done, but funding is a major problem.

Arguably the most common argument is there should be a concrete barrier separating opposing traffic, but that's easier said than done.

"You can't just go in and put up the barrier and be done," said Dan Landon, the executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission. "The design number is five feet on either side of the barrier, plus the barrier itself. You're talking about an additional 15 feet of pavement to meet the design standard.

"The cost of the additional pavement poses a challenge right there. We're not flush with money to do the kind of maintenance we need."

He also added those living adjacent to Highway 49 would have to surrender property via eminent domain in order to make room for the widened road.

Michael Wilkie isn't buying it. The Grass Valley resident, who wrote a letter to the editor to The Union expressing his concerns about Highway 49 safety, cites similar constraints overcome on Highway 17 between Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, Highway 37 in Sonoma and Solano Counties and Highway 4 between Martinez and Benicia.

Despite space constraints similar to those on Highway 49, he said, all have put up concrete barriers.

"A center divide has been advised in the past and I attribute not getting such a simple fix to the incompetence of Caltrans and the Sacramento bureaucracy," he wrote.

COMMUNITY ACTIVISM

Much of the mid-2000s improvements were the result of community feedback. Deborah Jones and her husband Bruce Jones were involved in a head-on collision on Dec. 19, 2003, on Highway 49 at Clivus Drive.

After another head-on collision two years later — one the Joneses weren't involved in — they were inspired to organize Citizens for Highway 49 Safety. A group of more than 300 local residents showed up at Bear River High School in 2006 to express their concerns and offer potential solutions, at least partially leading to the safety measures enacted in the years following.

In the wake of the most recent tragedies, the citizens group is planning another meeting for 7 p.m. on March 22 in the Bear River multipurpose room.

Topics Jones would like discussed include safety barriers, more CHP enforcement, posts that prevent cars from crossing over the divider, and various other incremental safety precautions.

"I think real change is going to come from public pressure for something to be done," Deborah Jones said. "People don't seek us out until a fatality occurs. We've been working on this for 10 years."

YOUTH ACTION

Jolie Allen, 11, is a sixth grader at the Nevada City School for the arts. She's working on her Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) project, building a website fix49.org with her brother Silas Allen to gain signatures to present to the March 22 Citizens for Highway 49 Safety meeting. The goal is to raise awareness for the increased need for safety improvements.

"This road is just a blood alley," said Scott Allen, Jolie's father. "It's horrible."

She'll start with a presentation on Feb. 16 to the Nevada Union High School leadership class hoping to start a wave of signatures to present in March.

"Each class member, the hope is, they'll get people to sign this petition to get a median barrier put in," said Scott Allen, Jolie's father. "Without a barrier, you take your life into your hands every time you drive that highway."

The goal is to collect between 5,000 and 10,000 signatures.

"It's all about making enough noise to make our politicians listen," Scott Allen said. "I think if you asked enough people and asked them what their No. 1 priority is, it's that darn highway."

To contact Staff Writer Stephen Roberson, email sroberson@theunion.com or

Preventing tragedy

Safety measures result in fewer accident deaths on Highway 49

By Brian HamiltonStaff Writer Saturday, April 9, 2011

Photo for The Union by John Hart

Highway 49 fatalities

Number of fatalities from car crashes on Highway 49,

between the Bear River and Grass Valley:
2005: 9
2006: 3
2007: 1
2008: 1
2009: 2
2010: 2
Source: California Highway Patrol

Charlie and Toshimi Heist felt fortunate simply to have survived after a Chevy pickup plowed through the driver's-side door of their Nissan Sentra at an estimated 50 mph.

Two days after that 2006 crash on Highway 49 at Lime Kiln Road, 76-year-old Toshimi was nearly pronounced dead as Charlie prepared to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” order for the love of his life.

Toshimi, though, took a turn for the better and pulled through.

But the life they had known was as shattered as the glass lying along the asphalt, next to the heap of twisted metal left in the wake of a 19-year-old man who reportedly ran a red light.

“It's been four years of hell, thanks to that damn wreck,” said Charlie Heist, a south county resident now approaching his 82nd birthday. “It ruined her life and it ruined mine.”

Toshimi Heist, Charlie's wife of nearly 60 years, died Dec. 12. She won't show up among the statistics in car crash fatalities, but Charlie Heist considers his wife to have been a casualty of dangerous driving on a treacherous thoroughfare.

“She would still be here,”

Heist said, “if it hadn't been for that crash.”

In 2005, nine people died in car crashes on the 15-mile stretch of Highway 49 between the Bear River and Grass Valley's Empire Street.

In the five years that followed, though — thanks largely to stepped-up enforcement by the California Highway Patrol, the installation of safety measures by Caltrans and an intense awareness campaign led by the Citizens for Highway 49 Safety — the frequency of fatal crashes has dropped significantly, as a total of nine people perished on the very same stretch since.

But some of those who travel it regularly say Highway 49 should hardly be considered a safe passage.

Citizens take safety into own hands

Bruce and Deborah Jones, another south county couple, had just mailed out their Christmas cards and were headed off to spend the holidays in Oregon, as they drove north on Highway 49 near Clivus Drive, just about two miles north of Combie/Wolf roads in south county, in the late afternoon of Dec. 19, 2003.

Behind the wheel, Bruce saw a southbound car crossing the double-yellow lines into his lane.

“I remember thinking,

I can miss this,'” Bruce Jones said. “And then I got hit.”

The impact of the head-on collision is still felt to this day, whether in the myriad injuries from which Deborah Jones still suffers — trouble recognizing faces due to brain trauma, pain from floating disk fragments in her neck or soreness from broken ribs and a fractured sternum — or the piles of paperwork from the long legal battle over the crash or the cause they've since embraced as Highway 49 safety advocates.

“I'll never be the same,” said Deborah, who was not breathing when Bruce — a former firefighter — fought his way out of his side of the truck and rushed to his wife's side. “I could hear him screaming for me, but I couldn't answer him.”

Two years later, as the Joneses continued to pull the pieces of their life back together, they found a calling of sorts right on the front page of the local newspaper, reporting on the 11th fatality of 2005 on Highway 49 between Auburn and Grass Valley.

Julie Trathen, a 57-year-old woman from Orangevale, and 18-year-old Christopher Leighton of Auburn died from injuries in a collision between Combie and Cameo roads — about a mile south from where Bruce and Deborah Jones had been struck — on Dec. 19, two years to the day of their own accident.

“I fell apart,” Deborah Jones said. “That was the day I called The Union to see what we could do, just believing we've got to do something.”

The Joneses called for a community meeting at Bear River High School to discuss how Highway 49 had become such a deadly drive in 2005.

More than 300 people, including family members of loved ones lost to the crashes, came out to address the issue with the local and regional officials on hand.

And soon thereafter Citizens for Highway 49 Safety — and a committed community at large — got to work, raising awareness, advocating for safety measures and fighting for funding needed for increased CHP patrols.

Caltrans comes through

Many community members called for concrete center dividers to be installed up and down Highway 49 to curtail the head-on crashes occurring when cars crossed over into oncoming traffic of the two-lane roadway.

But Caltrans argued that plan was not feasible for many reasons, most notably being the amount of work involved and the amount of money needed to fund it.

Instead rumble strips were cut into the center and shoulders of the road, hoping to alert drivers when they were treading into dangerous territory.

“With a Jersey wall (or divider), you need clearance on each side of the road and with the logistics of creating that space on Highway 49, it's not something that can be done quickly,” said CHP Sgt. Mike Lawrence, who has been patrolling the Grass Valley area since 2000.

“Caltrans wanted to do something as an emergency type of project. And with (rumble strips) there was no change in the physical rendering (of the highway), it involved just striping and the impressions in the road, which was a plan that could be put through much more quickly.”

Bruce Jones said the penultimate project, consisting of four-lanes separated by a concrete divider, could cost upward of $200 million.

Nearly one year after Citizens for Highway 49 safety called that first meeting, Caltrans crews began work on making the safety corridor — a designation that had already required drivers to use headlamps during daylight hours — more safe.

Three months and $482,000 later, Caltrans' immediate safety improvement project was complete.

“It was completed in March 2007 and included work from Combie and Wolf roads north to Crestview (just south of McKnight Way in Grass Valley),” said Carol Herman, a spokesperson for Caltrans. “Accidents dropped about 30 percent in the two years following the project's completion and fatalities were reduced by one half in those two years.”

Protecting by patrolling

A drastic decline in deaths on Highway 49 was evident well before Caltrans had completed the project, however. Fatalities dropped from nine in 2005 to three in 2006.

Citizens for Highway 49 Safety credits the CHP's efforts in stepped-up patrol for the headway made in reducing head-on collisions.

The CHP implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for speeding and other unlawful driving just two days after Christopher Leighton reportedly caused the Dec. 19, 2005 crash that killed both Julie Trathen and himself — the Placer High graduate had allegedly been passing two cars in a double-yellow line strip when he sideswiped a Chevy Tahoe and then crashed head-on into the car carrying Trathen.

In the first eight months of 2006, the CHP increased the speeding tickets it had issued on Highway 49 by nearly tenfold. Of the 363 citations it had issued on the highway in 2005, 196 were for speeding. By August 2006, the CHP had written 1,853 tickets — 1,460 for speeding.

“That was before our grant, which didn't start till 2009,” said Lawrence, noting a Highway 49 safety corridor grant that funded extra patrol between August 2009 and July 2010.

“Before the grant, the stepped-up enforcement came with the blessings of the Valley Division, which found overtime funds from other areas until we could secure our own funding,” he said.

According to CHP Officer Heather Blancarte, the grant funding resulted 1,406 citations — 920 for speeding and 132 for cell phone use — in addition to normal CHP patrolling of Highway 49.

Although proud to have played a key role in making motorists more safe on Highway 49, the CHP doesn't take full credit for the successful trend. Lawrence also pointed to the safety improvement project by Caltrans and also the work to simply raise awareness on the issue.

“The catalyst for this was, of course, 2005,” he said. “It was really a three-pronged approach that delivered the results.

“Just the education side of it, with (Citizens for Highway 49 Safety), the newspaper coverage and having Sacramento TV stations up here also helped.”

Taking responsibility

Allison Moyer is a 27-year-old mother of three who travels up and down Highway 49 three to four times a day from her Alta Sierra area home, taking her children — boys ages 6 and 4, along with a 9-month-old daughter — back and forth to school and to and from T-ball practice.

She was involved in a crash on Highway 49 in 2004, when she had an allergic reaction and fainted behind the wheel. Fortunately, her car went off the right side of the road and into a ditch.

“It could have been very bad, but I was lucky,” she said. “I think it's pretty safe now that we've got those rumble strips in, but I'm still not comfortable.

“Getting off (Highway 49) either at Alta Sierra or even at Lime Kiln, turning left with oncoming traffic so close and people trying to pass at 65 to 70 miles per hour ... It's scary.”

No matter how many safety measures are implemented and despite the hundreds of speeding citations issued, making Highway 49 — and all of Nevada County roadways, for that matter — safer is still up to the person behind the wheel, Charlie Heist said.

“It's still the same people out there blowing red lights and running stop signs,” said Heist, who said he not only lost his wife, but his best friend due to dangerous driving. “They still don't stop over here at Lime Kiln. They're still running up and down the road, but I don't know what the hurry is.

“These people need to be taken into a trauma center and see what speed and drinking and driving can do. Or maybe take them over to the local mortuary. That ought to wise them up.”

To contact City Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail bhamilton@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4249.


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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