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Since Lime Kiln lights’ installation, accidents cut in half

Doug Mattson

Turning from Lime Kiln Road onto Highway 49 used to mean watching an imaginary tennis match.

Look left, then right, and left again … and at some point hit the gas pedal.

“It was too busy, and you had a hard time getting out there,” said Jack Biddle, who lives near the south Nevada County intersection.

With highway traffic often flowing faster than 65 mph, motorists became experts at judging the speed of oncoming vehicles. But sometimes they were wrong, and Biddle would hear screeching tires and crunching metal.

That was before traffic lights were turned on at the intersection a year ago today as part of an $827,000 project that also widened and restriped the intersection, and provided new surfacing.

Biddle isn’t the only one who’s noticed the difference.

Ten crashes occurred at the intersection between April 1, 2001, and today, according to the California Highway Patrol. That’s just under half of the 21 wrecks that occurred in the same period a year earlier.

“Obviously, the light is doing its job,” CHP spokesman Troy Marks said. “We’re happy, of course, because we’re not spending as much time there.”

Firefighters at the nearby Nevada County Consolidated Fire District station have also noticed fewer calls to the intersection, Chief Tim Fike said.

As for Biddle: “At least you can get in and out of the freeway. Mornings and evenings, it was near impossible to get out there.”

One county official was cautiously optimistic.

“One year’s experience is not a real test,” said John Rumsey, senior civil engineer. “Accidents can change from year to year because accidents are a fairly random event. But it’s great. We expected there would be some reduction.”

Rumsey said about 25,000 vehicles pass through intersection daily, about 5,000 of them from Lime Kiln and East Lime Kiln roads.

There is no prescribed time frame for measuring the effectiveness of traffic lights, Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger said.

“It’s not like we’d ever take them out again,” he joked.

Caltrans routinely checks crash trends on a computerized accident-tracking system that gets its data from CHP. Workers also check lighted intersections for malfunctioning equipment.

The highway corridor’s next big project starts this summer, with the widening of Highway 49 between Combie Road and Bear River. It will go from two to four lanes, including the river crossing, and include longer right-hand turnout lanes at Combie.

Priced at $10 million, the work is scheduled for completion in summer 2004.

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