Town Hill safety discussions continue
Feb. 5, 2013 — A 330-foot steel galvanized barrier wall was installed in 2008 at the Town Hill curve to redirect vehicles back into the line of traffic upon impact. The Lassen County Transportation Commission has resumed discussions for a more permanent solution for out-of-control trucks at the curve. File photo
Discussions are resuming to find a solution to prevent or mitigate the impact when big rigs lose control and crash on the Town Hill curve at the west edge of Susanville.
Caltrans is working on a feasibility study, which looks at various options for improvement of the curve located at the bottom of an almost two-mile long, 6 percent downgrade.
The 90-degree, right-hand curve is marked at 20 miles per hour.
Dale Widner, Caltrans district 2 project engineer, gave a presentation regarding the draft study at a Monday, Jan. 14 meeting of the Lassen County Transportation Commission (LCTC).
No final decisions were made, but the LCTC voiced its priorities and gave input and will continue discussions with Caltrans.
The three “broad” alternatives in the feasibility study were constructing a seven foot, six inch concrete wall where the existing 32 inch metal barrier is currently located and creating a truck escape ramp, which allows trucks to come to a stop without crashing or being damaged.
However, Widner said escape routes only work if drivers use them.
The third alternative would be improving the 25-mile per hour designed curve to a 35-miles per hour curve. However, this alternative would require the removal of eight residences/businesses in the area.
Out of the three options, the tall wall was met with the most approval from the LCTC and City Administrator Jared Hancock. The Town Hill Safety Task Force, formed in 2004 to focus on the safety concerns regarding big rig trucks, had also supported the wall option.
In addition, the LCTC and Hancock added the possibility of installing a truck inspection station at the top of the grade to catch trucks before they come into town and seeing if a project could qualify for state safety funding as part of the priorities.
The next step, if the LCTC and Caltrans agree, will be developing a Project Study Report (PSR), that will need to be done in order to receive funding.
Some of the disadvantages regarding the tall wall, as mentioned in the study, is it may restrict access to Roop Street and it will not stop out-of-control trucks, it will only redirect them further down the road.
Widner also said Caltrans has some hesitancy with the tall wall alternative because the vehicle is still out of control.
However Hancock said, while the tall wall isn’t a great solution because there is still an out-of-control truck being pushed down the road, keeping trucks out of the other lane is really an important issue.
“Because that’s where we’d be looking more for the potential fatalities,” he said.
The tall wall option would also have the least impact on residents, according to Hancock.
He said there was also concerns as to why the project didn’t qualify for safety funding, as mentioned in the feasibility study, and why there was no mention of a pedestrian impact when a truck is out of control.
Widner said the Town Hill curve will not qualify for safety funding. Yes, he said, it is a problem, but not to the extent of the projects a mile long statewide.
“It hasn’t risen to that level yet,” Widner said.
Safety regarding the Town Hill curve has been a long-time discussion. As a temporary improvement, the metal barrier rail was added at the curve in August 2008 and additional signage and truck speed limits were also added, which LCTC commissioner Jim Chapman said have made a huge difference.
According to the feasibility study, since the barrier wall was constructed, two trucks have hit the rail and both were stopped at the curve.
One truck did roll over onto the north sidewalk and just made contact with the wall of the Uptown Cinemas building while the other did not cross the barrier. No one was injured as a result of these crashes.
Chapman who chaired the Town Hill Task Force said this is a vested thing the city and county needs to work on.
He said, “We were promised … by 2010-2014 that the tall wall project would be implemented, which would mean the PSR would have been done, the funding cycles would have been worked out and the actual groundwork would have been done.”
He said that is why he started bringing up the issue a year ago.
“Why hasn’t there been any progress on it? And it’s only been because of that in the past year this has become an issue,” Chapman said.
The tall wall or any of the other recommendations can only be effective if a truck inspection station can be placed at the top of the grade, according to Chapman.
A truck inspection would create a place where drivers pull over and the California Highway Patrol checks the brakes and ensures the loads are correct.
According to Chapman, the current barrier and the tall wall were only temporary solutions until an inspection station or any other alternative was put into place.
The LCTC’s input will be incorporated into the feasibility study.
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