Highway from hell

I-5’s woes are directly affecting the Sacramento region

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the September 6, 2018, issue.

California’s largest highway has been named among the most dangerous in the country.

Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Value Penguin found Interstate 5 to be the fourth-most hazardous highway in the United States. Government officials say funding is needed if California wants its freeways to avoid such dubious distinctions.

“[Our] highways are going to continue deteriorating without monetary investment,” said Mark Dinger, a spokesperson for the California Department of Transportation.

Although the study named I-5’s portion running through Los Angeles County as the most unsafe, Sacramento’s slice is also prone to trouble. Accidents and victim rates through the capital region have been on a steady rise for nearly a decade, according to preliminary data from the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System. From 2008 to 2017, total collisions and injuries increased by 44 and 60 percent, respectively.

Emergency Labor Day weekend repairs of massive potholes notwithstanding, the California Transportation Commission recently awarded Caltrans $15 million to build bus and carpool lanes on I-5 from downtown Sacramento to Elk Grove to relieve congestion and thus provide a safer driving experience. But the money would come from the gas tax initiative, which is the subject of a referendum headed for the November ballot. Norman Hom, executive director of the Sacramento Transportation Authority, told SN&R the project is at risk of being stalled or postponed if voters repeal the gas tax.

Other potential projects are already being delayed, Hom added. The gas tax provides $25 million a year to a statewide expansion of “freeway service patrols,” which provide congestion relief, incident management and enhance highway safety.

“Now we’re in a holding pattern to see what happens in November,” Hom said.

Jennifer Doll, special programs manager for Sacramento Transportation Authority, said the patrols are one of the most efficient ways to reduce traffic and prevent accidents, and that Sacramentans should expect more congestion without them.

Andrew Alexis, who drives his son from East Sacramento to his job at the airport four days a week, has noticed increased traffic over the last decade.

“There really shouldn’t be traffic going out of downtown at 2 p.m. but there is,” Alexis said. “And at 5 p.m. it’s just unbearable.”