A major crash on Highway 50 near Placerville Saturday evening that left four dead, including two children, occurred on a part of the highway designated three years ago for safety upgrades.
Those upgrades, most likely a concrete median divider and underpass for local traffic, have been stalled by lack of funding, state and local officials said.
California Highway Patrol officials say the two-car crash at 6 p.m. Saturday happened in the Apple Hill area between Still Meadow Road and Braeburn Lane, a few miles east of Placerville.
A westbound Toyota Prius, carrying a family from Oakland, veered from the slow lane into oncoming traffic and slammed broadside into an eastbound minivan, which was traveling in the slow lane in the opposite direction. Investigators said a witness reported seeing a deer lying on the road near the crash scene, but CHP officials searching later could not find the deer.
Three of the four occupants of the Prius were killed a husband, wife and their 8-year-old son. A 10-year-old daughter, the only survivor in that vehicle, was hospitalized with severe injuries.
The other car carried a family of five from Pollock Pines, the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office reported. One member of the family, a 4-year-old girl, was killed. Her mother and father were injured. Their twin 1-year-old boys were uninjured.
State and county officials say they have added 25 miles of concrete median barriers on Highway 50 in El Dorado County in recent years as a safety measure.
The area of the highway near the crash is intersected by numerous local roads and driveways, adding to the danger of that section of roadway, but making it more difficult to add median barriers without blocking local traffic, officials said.
A 2009 El Dorado County Transportation Commission study concluded the area nevertheless should have safety upgrades.
"The study identified safety concerns for vehicles entering or exiting U.S. 50 in that area, the intermingling of local and visitor traffic," said Dan Bolster, a planner with the El Dorado County Transportation Commission. "The most common type of collision is a broadside collision."
Bolster said the study did not determine what safety steps should be taken, but identified a median barrier for several miles between Still Meadow Road and upper Carson Road as a likely addition. That likely would require construction of an underpass in the Camino Heights area to allow local traffic to travel between the north and south sides of the highway, he said.
The state and county are looking for funding to conduct an environmental review of the project, Bolster said.
State and local officials today plan a ribbon cutting on a series of Highway 50 widening and safety improvements a few miles west of Placerville.
CHP officials said the crash investigation is ongoing. Excessive speed does not appear to be a factor, they said.