State highway officials will study 18 Sacramento-area freeway ramps and a series of ramps in San Diego to determine if small changes can help reduce wrong-way freeway driving crashes.
California Department of Transportation officials said the test was prompted by a spate of nine wrong-way fatal crashes in those two areas earlier in the year. Four of them occurred in Sacramento between January and May, leaving 14 people dead. All four involved intoxicated wrong-way drivers traveling at night, the state said. In San Diego, five such crashes left eight people dead.
Another Sacramento-area wrong-way freeway crash occurred Monday night on Interstate 5 near Dunnigan. The driver of a Honda crashed after driving at more than 100 mph southbound in the northbound lanes with headlights off, trying to evade California Highway Patrol officers, authorities said. The driver suffered major injuries. A passenger, who was a suspect in a Washington state homicide investigation, was killed.
In a letter to the Legislature on Tuesday, Caltrans said it chose Sacramento’s Highway 50, and a portion of Interstates 80 and 5, as one of the two pilot project areas because many people drive here between Tahoe and the Bay Area and are unfamiliar with the local ramp system.
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The goal is to determine “if changing offramp pavement marking patterns and installing active warning systems can reduce wrong-way driver’s movements,” wrote the agency’s chief, Malcolm Dougherty.
The pilot program will last two years, and will start at some point in 2016, state officials said.
The local test area will extend from the East Chiles Road ramps just east of Davis on Interstate 80 in Yolo County to the Howe Avenue ramps on Highway 50. The test also includes the Q Street ramps on I-5 in downtown Sacramento.
The state will replace white reflective pavement markers with red-and-white markers on some ramps and will install large “wrong way, do not enter” signs on other ramps.
On other ramps, the state plans to install “an active monitoring system which can identify, record, and transmit wrong-way driver information to a central location, and activate flashing beacons” to alert the driver that he or she is entering the freeway in the wrong direction.
The goal, Caltrans said in its letter, is to reduce wrong-way crashes by focusing “on non-complex and relatively inexpensive enhancement strategies to get the attention of wrong-way drivers on freeway exit ramps so that they turn around before entering the main lanes.”
If the test site strategies in Sacramento and San Diego prove to be helpful, the state will “implement such strategies widespread over time.”
The state chose ramps that, based on their alignment and other features, “suggested the ramp may have a higher potential for a wrong-way movement than other ramp layouts.”
Those include the Jefferson Boulevard westbound offramp and the Harbor Boulevard westbound offramp in West Sacramento.
In Sacramento, the 10th and 16th Street westbound offramps will be studied, as well as the Stockton Boulevard and 65th Street westbound offramps. Eastbound offramps set for study include those at Fifth, 34th and 59th streets.
State officials noted that the number of wrong-way freeway driving crash fatalities has remained “relatively stable” since 1995, after the state implemented a series of safety improvements on offramps. But the fatality number still averages 23 per year, state officials said. Complete statewide wrong-way crash and fatality numbers for 2015 have not yet been calculated.
Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol created a working group in May to look at ways to reduce wrong-way crashes. CHP data indicate that such crashes are spread throughout the highway system and are “not specific to any location or offramp,” Caltrans reported.
Two of the Sacramento crashes earlier this year occurred on I-80 near Madison Avenue. Another happened on Interstate 505 near Highway 16 in Yolo County. A fourth took place on Highway 50 near Stockton Boulevard.