State Route 67 between Lakeside and Ramona has been the scene of numerous, horrific head-on collision over the years.
Now the state’s Transportation Department is studying whether to build median barriers along a 12-mile stretch of the highway between Willow Road in Lakeside and Shady Oaks Drive in Ramona — an idea talked about for decades but always rejected for various reasons.
The obvious advantage to placing barriers would be to stop head-on collisions from happening — crashes like one in May 2012 that killed four people when the driver of a car heading toward Ramona near Mount Woodson lost control on the rain-slicked highway and crossed into oncoming traffic.
One reason for rejecting the barriers has been the vast inconvenience it would create for thousands of people who live off cross streets or have driveways along the highway. Barriers would mean those residents would have to make right turns and possibly drive for miles before being able to make a U-turn and head back in the direction they intended, said California Department of Transportation Project Manager Richard Estrada.
That would also cause further traffic congestion that is already significant, especially during evening rush hour.
“That’s a huge consideration that we’re looking at,” Estrada said.
Barriers are also a concern when it comes to evacuating Ramona during a wild fire. In 2007 it took many hours to evacuate the town as the Witch Creek fire threatened the community. Estrada said during part of the evacuation both sides of the highway were opened to southbound traffic; how a barrier would impact such an evacuation is a concern.
“We will be meeting with a number of different agencies, law enforcement and fire, because we are well aware that fire evacuation is an issue,” he said.
Another reason given in the past for not building barriers is that, while they are effective at stopping head-on crashes, they can cause other accidents when drivers sideswipe a barrier then overcorrect, sending them into another vehicle or rock wall, or down an embankment.
There are no plans in even the distant future to widen the highway. Estrada said if barriers are eventually built it would be a complicated construction project that would probably cause months of heavy congestion along the highway because lanes would be narrowed in order to protect workers.
Four alternative plans are being considered. One would leave things as they are, the other three involve either concrete, metal or tension cable barriers or creating a buffer zone. Some of the options would require removing a lane of traffic in parts of the highway where there are currently three or four lanes, Estrada said. That too would likely cause further congestion, the project manager said.
In August, an informational meeting was held in Ramona to give the public the opportunity to see what is being considered. Probably next spring, after a draft environmental report has been prepared, Caltrans will make a presentation to the community. Should one of the barrier options eventually be accepted, construction would likely not begin until late 2016 or 2017, Estrada said.
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Caltrans hopes to make deadly road safer
RAMONA, Calif. – State Route 67 is one of the deadliest roads in San Diego County and the California State Transportation Department is trying to figure out how to make it safer.
“SR-67 is a curvy rural highway with one or two lanes in each direction,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Cathryne Bruce-Johnson. “It also intersects with a lot of crossroads and driveways.”
Caltrans did not have exact numbers on how many fatal deaths have taken place on Route 67, but residents who live near the highway say there are several deadly accidents every year.
“Every time there is a fatal accident, a life flight helicopter is brought in and the freeway is shut down, sometimes for four hours at a time,” said Sheri Salomone, who lives off of the highway in Ramona. “I personally have had to sit in my car all that time and wait for the road to reopen because it is just too long to drive all the way around.”
Caltrans is in the early stages of considering several different options to improve the road. The alternatives for potential improvements being considered include a median concrete barrier, a high tension cable barrier, a metal barrier and median buffer from Willow Road to Shady Oaks Drive in the cities of Lakeside, Poway and Ramona.
The idea of median barriers have been rejected for decades because residents say they would inconvenience those who live off the highway, because they would have to drive for miles before they could make a U-turn to head back in the other direction.
Stephen Adams has used SR-67 for 28 years and said most of the accidents are the result of careless driving.
“People need to take responsibility of themselves and be more careful of their driving,” Adams said.
In areas where there are more than one lane in each direction, adding barriers could reduce the number of lanes, according to Caltrans.
Residents argue that one lane would cause more traffic on a highway that is already congested during rush hour.
Salomone said she’s not even convinced a barrier would solve the problem.
“There’s already a barrier on Slaughter House Canyon Road and there’s a lot of accidents there,” she said.
Caltrans is soliciting public feedback on the potential improvements until October 15 online at Caltrans website and email.
Construction would not likely begin until 2016 or 2017.