Caltrans to begin property acquisitions along Highway 174 | TheUnion.com

Caltrans to begin property acquisitions along Highway 174

Collisions occur along the two miles of State Route 174 between Maple Way and You Bet Road in Nevada County at a rate that exceeds the average for similar types of highways in California, according to the California Department of Transportation.

In order to reduce that rate and create a safer environment, Caltrans plans to complete road improvement projects along that portion of the highway over the next two and a half years.

Those improvements include realigning several curves and widening lanes— which currently range from 11 to 11.3 feet wide — to the state standard of 12 feet wide. Caltrans also plans to widen shoulders — which currently range from one inch to five and a half feet — to 8 feet, and add 20 feet of "clear recovery zone" beyond the lane on each side of the highway, which includes the eight foot shoulder and an additional 12 feet of area clear of any trees, poles, or other obstructions.

Wider shoulders and recovery zones, according to Caltrans, enhance pedestrian and bicyclist safety, provide additional room for errant vehicles to recover and correct direction of travel, and allow more room for emergency and service vehicles, among other benefits.

“There were concerns that this project could ruin the scenic nature of the highway, or take away from the rural lifestyle of residents out there. But this is a safety issue, and once that’s been identified, the state is liable if we don’t do anything about it.”

— Caltrans Project Manager Cameron Knudson

The department has completed initial environmental review and design processes for the project, which were revised after public input was provided at open house events in May 2015 and June 2016, and it plans to begin the process of acquiring any parcels or portions of parcels that will be impacted by the project this summer.

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Impacted properties

Currently, Caltrans has identified 49 parcels that will be impacted, and will send out letters to the owners of those properties notifying them of the impact within the next few months, according to Project Manager Cameron Knudson.

Acquisition negotiations and purchases, if required, will take place between Caltrans and property owners, the department said.

Caltrans hosted an informational meeting about the project on May 24. According to Knudson, the majority of community members attending that meeting were in opposition to the project.

"There were concerns that this project could ruin the scenic nature of the highway, or take away from the rural lifestyle of residents out there," he said. "But this is a safety issue, and once that's been identified, the state is liable if we don't do anything about it."

Caltrans Public Information Officer Liza Whitmore said an answer was not readily available when asked whether lawsuits had been filed against Caltrans by victims of accidents which occurred on sections of state highway previously designated for safety projects that were never completed.

From April 2010 to March 2013, the most recent time frame from which Caltrans had statistics readily available, a total of 30 vehicle collisions occurred along the two-mile stretch of Highway 174 slated for safety improvement, 18 of which resulted in injuries and two in fatalities, according to the department.

Follow the formula

To determine an average collision rate for that portion of the highway, and an average for comparison based on similar winding, rural two-lane highways, the department "follows a specific formula that is used statewide by Caltrans Traffic Safety staff and which has been determined to be an accurate reflector of the accident rates on any particular stretch of highway," Whitmore said in an email.

That formula calculates the number of accidents per million vehicle miles traveled. For the April 2010 to March 2013 data period, there were a total of 2.02 accidents per million vehicle miles within the project area of Highway 174, while the state average was 1.22.

Grass Valley resident James Lingenfelter called the project a "complete waste of money."

Lingenfelter drives along Highway 174 in Nevada County often, he said, and called it a "beautiful road." He's afraid the safety project could be a huge detriment to what he called "the highlight of the county."

"There are a lot of other places that could use transportation funds," said Lingenfelter. Highway 174, he said, "isn't crying for it as far as I'm concerned."

Construction is slated to begin during the summer of 2019 and be completed by the fall of 2020.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.

By the numbers

A look at Highway 174 safety statistics from April 2010 to March 2013:

30 — total accidents

18 — accidents resulting in injury

2 — accidents resulting in fatality

2.02 — total number of accidents per million vehicle miles

1.22 — state average for total number of accidents per million vehicle miles on similar highways

Source: California Department of Transportation

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