It’s a familiar sight for many Citrus Heights residents – a car, turning too fast, or maybe not soon enough, ramming a helpless set of concrete planters at the busy intersection of Old Auburn Road and Fair Oaks Boulevard.
Then the perennial routine begins: The vehicle is towed, leaving a pile of stones, dirt and half-dead shrubbery haphazardly strewn across the sidewalk. An unknown neighbor puts up a quippy wooden sign, the humor dry. Tired orange traffic cones are pulled out, and a local contractor is hired to rebuild the safety barrier.
If history serves as a guide, the whole thing will repeat itself within a year, if not within a few months.
“I came home from work one day and the whole left side of the planter … in front of my backyard was obliterated,” said Jesse Durham, whose house is just behind the barriers. “The wall is like four or five blocks high and just down to the bottom block. You’re talking 50, 60 stones just gone.”
In the nine years the planters have been in place, the city has documented 23 repairs of planters at the intersection ranging from $461 to $2,626, costing at least $25,745, according to city reports obtained through a public records request.
The first cost-documented crash happened while contractors were first building it, and the cost for a repair in 2017 was listed as “unknown” in the city record.
Failure to make the outside left-hand turn has led to dangerous and expensive consequences, said Citrus Heights resident Bob Mamer, whose house also sits directly behind the planters. Five cars have gone through his fence in the last seven years, he said.
Neither the city nor the drivers of crashed vehicles have paid to fix his fence, Mamer said. He said that Citrus Heights law enforcement is not doing enough to ticket cars speeding through the intersection.
“It’s killing me. Every time it happens, it costs a thousand in deductibles,” Mamer said. “It’s cost me $6,500 and nobody cares.”
Over the last few years, a neighbor has put up signs that range from puns and taunts to warnings.
“#13 Hit me again ... I dare ya!”
Fifteen tally marks, then, “YOU NEXT?”
The first time Roseville resident Scott Hewett saw one of the painted signs was on his way to work about five years ago. “CARS - 0 WALL - 7” it read.
“I go, ‘Oh, there’s another one,’ “ Hewett said. “It jumps out at you.”
No one has died at the intersection, state and local data show, but Mamer worries it may be inevitable. In fact, Durham said that those planters might be the only thing between him and a car crashing through his backyard. “My bedroom is 8 feet from that fence. If a car is going fast enough … they’d go straight into me.”
The city has begun investigating whether it can reduce the number of crashes at the intersection, said senior civil/traffic engineer Leslie Blomquist. In May, the city secured a $190,000 grant from the California Department of Transportation to review and suggest improvements to the busy Old Auburn Road corridor.
“With the existing infrastructure, we’re trying to increase safety as much as we can without full reconstruction,” she said.
The Old Auburn corridor plan is scheduled to be completed by early 2020, Blomquist said.
Neighbors like Durham commend the rogue sign poster’s clever handiwork. Durham, who grew up in nearby Orangevale, remembers seeing car crashes at the intersection even before there were concrete planters, with “people tallying all the hits.”
“We kinda knew the risks” of buying a house just feet from the danger-prone planter, he said. “Sometimes you just gotta pull the trigger and go for it.”
The signs are unlikely to stop anytime soon. A little over two weeks ago, a concrete planter took another hit. The repair cost for the most recent crash in December has yet to be determined, per city records. The message for hit No. 24? “A tribute to Willie Mays the ‘Say Hey Kid.’ “