Caltran’s grisly ‘formula’ has been met — can we fix ‘the fork’ now?
Last week ended in heartbreak. On May 19, a rollover crash on County Road 32 (aka Russell Boulevard) injured two elderly Winters residents and worse yet, a 3-year-old child was ejected from the vehicle and died.
The worst part of my job is writing stories about tragedies. I’m aware that what appears in print may be very hurtful to those affected, but I have to do my job. Some people view “doing my job” in these cases as harsh or insensitive, but my angle is that every person in Winters matters, and when we lose someone tragically — it matters.
The person who mattered in this story was Misael Amador Reyes, and I’m hoping his tiny, precious life may still make an impact. While interviewing a nearby resident of that “S curve” where County Roads 31 and 32 fork, I discovered that accidents there are nothing new.
Nicole Needham lives on the north side of that fork, and this was the third rollover she’s seen at that spot (one car even landed in her back yard), but not the first accident. She often hears tires squealing as cars pass, followed either by silence because the driver managed to regain control or the crunch of metal because s/he didn’t.
Needham and her husband, Starr, both listed speed as a concern in this spot, as well as confusion for eastbound drivers who are unfamiliar with the fork in the road, which doesn’t have signage indicating which road is which or that the fork lies ahead. Nicole has complained to authorities about the unsafe conditions many times, and they nod and then do nothing.
I’ve been to the Needham’s house several times and experienced the unsafe situation myself that they deal with on a daily basis. Their driveway is situated immediately at the end of the last westbound turn, and there isn’t time to build up to highway speed when pulling out of her driveway to keep clear of cars coming whipping out of the curve at top speed and bearing right down on you.
Nicole told me that ag truck drivers are the worst offenders, not only bearing down on her, but honking and sometimes flipping her off. What choice does she have when pulling out of her driveway but to be moving at less than the speed limit? All the Needhams can do is cringe and hope they don’t hear that squeal of tires followed by crunching metal — theirs.
Pulling out is dangerous, but so is pulling in. You can’t see if anyone is coming around the corner westbound, and you have to just take your chances and floor it — while simultaneously hoping you don’t get rear-ended by eastbound traffic barreling down on you while you’re stopped and waiting to turn left.
The situation is bad now, but poised to become much worse. Winters is no longer a well-kept secret. Go downtown on any Thursday/Friday/Saturday night and you’ll see every restaurant and tasting room packed to the rafters — mostly by people who don’t live here. Once the PG&E training center and hotel are finished, the influx of new people unfamiliar with that road will increase exponentially. It goes to reason that with a spike in the number of cars, there will also be a spike in the number of accidents — and deaths.
The Needhams suggest reducing the speed on and approaching the S-curve, signage for eastbound drivers that a fork lies ahead, and a three-way stop at the “triangle” of that intersection, where a little piece of road additionally connects County Roads 31 and 32. During our conversation, I mentioned to Nicole my frustration years ago when I complained to Caltrans about the number of accidents at Walnut Lane and Grant Avenue (aka County Road 31 and Highway 128). The Caltrans staff told me that intersection didn’t meet their “formula” for stoplights or reduced speeds. Translation: No one has died there.
A life is a mere “formula” for Caltrans. It’s sick.
Well, sadly, the fork of County Roads 31 and 32 have now met Caltrans’ formula. So, can we finally get something done about this section of the road? In addition to the changes suggested by the Needhams, I propose westbound signage indicating “cross traffic ahead” and maybe an eastbound turning lane for the Needham’s driveway. The Needhams and their visitors shouldn’t have to risk their lives — and the lives of unfamiliar or inattentive drivers as well — just to get in and out of their driveway.
In addition, there needs to be increased CHP patrol of this portion of the road, not just for speeders, but also for the pokey-pants who drive merrily along at 40 miles per hour with 10 cars stacked up behind them, all driven by annoyed, frustrated drivers trying to pass on a road that, in my opinion, isn’t safe for passing. There’s a traffic law that no one seems to know about but me: If you’re going so slow that you’re holding up traffic, you’re supposed to pull over and let the traffic pass. I’d like to see the CHP start passing out tickets to the slowpokes too, because I’m sure they’re a factor in back roads wrecks.
And so, this is an open appeal to our Yolo County Supervisor, Don Saylor, to lead the charge on forcing Caltrans to improve safety at the Country Road 31-32 fork. Saylor succeeded in getting safety improvements at the intersection of County Roads 31 and 95 following the horrific accident that paralyzed a Winters teenager. I’m hoping he can similarly apply pressure regarding the fork and — time is of the essence.
County Road 31 is the main connector between Winters and Davis and is already busy, and a huge influx of new traffic is on the horizon. Let’s be proactive for a change and fix the fork before the “formula” grows. Let’s do it to save lives, and let’s do it in little Misael’s memory. Let’s make this tragedy matter.