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Caltrans issues warnings in crash-prone I-80 zone

State highway officials have placed additional traffic control signs in a troublesome construction zone on Interstate 80 in northern Sacramento in an effort to reduce that area’s high number of crashes.

A Sacramento Bee review of California Highway Patrol crash data showed collisions increased dramatically in July and August when construction crews reconfigured the eastbound lanes on a 10-mile stretch between the West El Camino Avenue interchange and Longview Drive.

Many of the crashes were rear-end collisions, the Bee review showed, a sign that drivers were not sufficiently aware that traffic in the construction zone slows dramatically and at times comes to a complete stop. A number of drivers complained the construction-related lane changes, which included separating local and “express” traffic by concrete barriers, were confusing and felt dangerous.

A subsequent review by Caltrans of 38 crashes in the construction zone concluded that three-quarters of them were rear-enders. Caltrans officials cited a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that found distracted driving contributes to 93 percent of rear-end collisions. Many crashes have been happening between Truxel Road and Northgate Boulevard, Caltrans said, although the Bee review suggests crashes are happening throughout the zone.

Caltrans recently added new speed limit signs warning motorists that the maximum speed on that stretch during the construction period has been reduced to 55 mph. Caltrans also added more visible signage earlier on onramps and at merge areas to warn drivers, and added some signs closer to traffic lanes, spokesman Dennis Keaton said.

“We found out from our inspectors that motorists were just missing (the merge signs), driving by too fast,” Keaton said. “So we posted other signs further down. We’re telling them twice.”

Caltrans officials issued a reminder Friday to the public to be aware of slow traffic in the construction area.

“A split second of inattention can result in a lifetime of devastation,” said Chief Willie Godinez, commander of CHP’s Valley Division. “Motorists are reminded to eliminate distractions and pay attention to what is going on around them on the highway. When approaching a construction zone, give workers adequate space by moving over when possible or slowing to a safe speed as you pass by.”

Caltrans officials said they will continue to monitor collisions in the work zone to see if any more crash patterns develop.

The $133 million I-80 construction project includes new carpool lanes, new merge lanes and reconstruction of all existing lanes in both directions. The current lane configurations on the eastbound side will be in place for up to a year. The project will then move to the westbound side.

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