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LA Times Celebrates Road Widening as “Lifesaver”

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While the New York Times is discovering a growing livable streets movement in Los Angeles, our Paper of Record’s transportation columnist, Steve Hymon, is ready to throw a party for a road widening project in Eastern Sierra. The widening will double road capacity from two to four lanes for 14 miles between Independence and Big Pine. It should be completed in 2009.

According to the article car traffic is light on the now two-lane stretch of road but that the road’s duel use as a truck route makes it more perilous. Hyman goes into detail about some of the horrific crashes that have taken the lives of motorists and passengers along the route, but in every example given, the fault of the accident lies on drivers who were driving recklessly not road conditions.

For example:

Take, for example, the crash near Olancha last August. A 23-year-old woman from Cerritos was driving a Toyota SUV on the 395.

Stuck behind an SUV pulling a trailer, she tried going around and rammed into a Mazda traveling in the other direction. A 14-year-old girl in her SUV died, as did a female passenger in the Mazda.

Or:

At midnight on Aug. 30, 2003, on a two-lane stretch of 395 near a well-known jerky stand in Olancha, a vehicle carrying two drunk men veered across the road and rammed into Margaret Hart's vehicle. Hart, 43, was killed instantly.

Or:

One of the CHP officers who responded to Hart's crash was Paul Pino. Four months later, on Dec. 30, 2003, Pino was sitting in his patrol car writing a citation to a trucker he had just pulled over on a nearby stretch of 395.

An SUV driven by a 20-year-old woman, who later said she was tired, veered off the road and plowed into Pino's car, pushing it under the truck.

The causes of these deaths were not that the road was only two lanes; the cause of these deaths were drivers who chose to break the law by driving while exhausted and drunk or that were in too much of a rush to safely pass another vehicle.

Towards the middle of the article, Hymon makes a plea that people urge elected leaders to consider safety when handing out transportation funds.  Instead, how about urging safety when enforcing traffic laws? This fourteen mile stretch of road may indeed by a deathtrap, but it also sounds like an area where state police should be handing out tickets like candy at Halloween.

A former city politics reporter for the Times, Hymon clearly thinks this "safety" project should have been completed years ago and feels justified in slamming CALTRANS once a spokesperson reveals that the project has been on the books since the 1950's.  Hymon wonders what’s taken so long to get this road widened..

A better question would have been, why are we still using solutions dreamed up over half a century ago to solve problems that exist today?

Photo: Kellogg Photography/Flickr

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