Back-Seat Driver

Crashes continue in I-80 construction zone in north Sacramento

On average, there’s been a crash a day there since the state reconfigured the I-80 eastbound lanes for rehabilitation work last summer.
On average, there’s been a crash a day there since the state reconfigured the I-80 eastbound lanes for rehabilitation work last summer. Sacramento Bee

The big Interstate 80 reconstruction work zone in north Sacramento continues to be a trouble spot for some drivers, new California Highway Patrol traffic crash data show.

On average, there’s been a crash a day there since the state reconfigured the eastbound lanes for rehabilitation work last summer. That’s more than double the normal crash numbers for the 10-mile stretch from West El Camino Avenue to the Watt Avenue interchange. The collision count could rise in the coming months as the rain and fog season makes freeway driving conditions more difficult in general.

Caltrans representatives told The Bee several months ago the crash numbers likely would drop as drivers became used to the situation. So far, that hasn’t happened. There were 30 crashes in July, 36 in August, 24 in September, 34 in October, and 12 in the first 15 days of November, according to the CHP.

By comparison, in April, May and June, there were 11, 9, and 15.

Caltrans has been monitoring the crashes since The Sacramento Bee first reported the higher rates in August and has made a handful of safety changes at the site, including adding warning signs about slow traffic ahead. Collision numbers may still be up, Caltrans safety official Ed Yarbrough said, because many out-of-area motorists unfamiliar with the lane changes come through the area daily between the Bay Area, Lake Tahoe and Reno.

Yarbrough said crashes typically increase in freeway work zones despite efforts to design them safely. That is why officials conduct safety campaigns across the state, urging drivers to “slow for the cone zone” and why traffic citation amounts are often increased in construction areas. The speed limit in the I-80 zone has been reduced to 55 miles per hour.

Yarbrough said his own review shows that 80 percent of the I-80 construction zone crashes are rear-enders. That suggests driver inattention, he said. Normally, rear-enders account for slightly less than 60 percent of freeway crashes.

“We need people to take their time and pay attention,” he said.

Yarbrough said rear-end crashes increased as well during the state’s much publicized Fix50 project downtown earlier this year. Those lane closures, for road resurfacing, turned out not to be as dramatic as feared.

In contrast, this project, on an equally important commute and commercial truck corridor, has received less attention but is a much larger project, with arguably bigger impacts on traffic. Caltrans is essentially rebuilding the entire freeway, tearing out and replacing all existing lanes and adding carpool lanes and new lanes to and from ramps.

Caltrans will keep the current eastbound lane configurations in place until sometime in the middle of next year, then will switch and do the same type of work on the westbound side. The $133 million project likely won’t be finished until 2016.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

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