Safety improvements will make Highway 193 a great route

By: Carol Feineman, Editor Lincoln News Messenger
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Being close to the foothills is great.  Driving 20 minutes from Lincoln, I can be in Auburn to see a movie or hear a band. Or, from Auburn, I can take a short drive east to the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The direct shortcut from Lincoln to Auburn, which leads me to other desirable destinations, is Highway 193.

But that state highway can be a scary road.

Especially at night when trees and scrubs hide deer ready to run across Highway 193 or during rainy weather when the road turns slippery,

Add impatient tailgaters lining up in back of my car and the benefits derived from my shortcut route quickly disappear.

So I welcomed last week’s news (Jan. 17 Lincoln News Messenger, front page, “Plans to make Highway 193 safer) that safety improvements will be made.

Specifically, a 1.1-mile stretch almost 4 miles east of Lincoln will be realigned and shoulders added  from about 500 feet west of Clark Tunnel Road to 500 feet east of Mandarin Hill Road.

Caltrans public information officer Rochelle Jenkins said this week that the realignment project’s main purpose is to improve safety on Highway 193. 

“We’re going to ease the corners, which means make the corners straighter,” Jenkins said, “and add shoulders.”

Construction will run from June 2015 to October 2017.

 The total project cost, from design to completion, is $17 million, according to Jenkins. State highway funds are already set aside to handle all the costs.

After driving Highway 193 weekly for three years, I know that this project is long overdue.

“We’re having a significant number of off-the-road incidents (vehicles taking corners too fast, people driving above their ability in that curvy section), cars going off the road, usually due to speed,” Jenkins said. “We need to give drivers shoulders so they have a correction zone. It’s also a benefit for the bicyclists so they can use that shoulder. People drive too fast. I shudder to think of someone going off the road and hitting a resident.”

Along the 1.1 mile segment, 34 crashes took place between April 1, 2003 and March 31, 2007, including three collisions involving fatalities, according to a Caltrans’ State Route 193 Curve Improvement Study. Seven collisions involved solo motorcycles, including the three collisions with fatalities. In 32 of the 34 accidents, vehicles were run off the road.

California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer David Martinez also said this week that Highway 193, between Lincoln and Auburn, can be a dangerous roadway “if people do not drive safely” on it.

“It is a windy road, with a lot of sharp curves and no room for passing,” Martinez said.

More current statistics show 13 collisions from Jan. 1, 2012 to today on Highway 193, according to Martinez.

Of those 13 collisions, four collisions resulted in minor to moderate injuries. Three collisions were DUI-related or driver-under-the-influence related.

In a column I wrote in late January 2010, I quoted Martinez saying there were six traffic collisions, two of them with injuries and three of them involving DUI drivers between December 2009 and January 2010 on Highway 193.

Since Caltrans is limited to what improvements can be made to such a curved road and those improvements are a good two years away, motorists today must practice better driving skills.

What can car drivers and bike riders do to be safer on Highway 193?

“Keep an eye out for hazards and drive at a slower speed,” Martinez said. “In adverse weather, sometimes it’s safer to drive less than the speed limit. In fact, you can be citied for driving at an unsafe speed in adverse weather.”

Martinez explained that driving at a slower rate of speed helps a driver’s reaction time when approaching a hazardous situation.

“If there is a hazard in the road, such as animals (deer) in the road, a disabled vehicle, debris, drivers need time to react and handle that hazard,” Martinez said. “You have posted speed limits but, in adverse weather, drive at a rate of speed where you have enough time to react to a hazardous situation.”

It takes the average person three-quarters of a second to perceive a hazard and another

three-quarters of a second to react to it, for example, applying the brakes or turning the wheels, according to the CHP spokesman.

“In a second and a half, your car can travel between 70 to 100 feet, depending on the speed you are traveling,” Martinez said.

The California Highway Patrol stresses that bicyclists ride closest to the right portion of the paved roadway. It would be unsafe for bicyclists to ride in the center of the traffic lane, since they normally travel slower than vehicles.

Remember to have reflective equipment on bicycles and clothing. Bike riders should always wear helmets and be prepared for hazards in the roadway as well, according to Martinez.

“Vehicles and bikes can share the roadway safely, as long as everyone practices safe driving habits,” Martinez said.

Jenkins warned that the Highway 193 commute time will increase during construction. But that’s a small price to pay, especially when you consider the lives potentially saved by these improvements.

I wish those improvements were already in effect and that drivers practice better driving habits. When both happen, Highway 193 will be a stress-free ride.