The fatal traffic accident Friday that claimed the life of a 21-year-old Truckee man focused new attention on the danger posed by the intersection of East Alder Creek Road and Highway 89.
Some residents who live near the stretch of road have asked Caltrans to take a fresh look at the intersection design, following the death of Butte Community College student Kyle Van Arsdale.
“As a resident of Truckee, I would like to know how many accidents and fatalities have occurred on that intersection?” asked Christina Visconti of Tahoe Donner in a letter to Caltrans this week. “How many more have to occur until something is done?”
Visconti’s concern is shared by Town of Truckee officials, who said they will notify Caltrans of the fatal accident and ask the state agency to study possible safety improvements.
A friend of the Van Arsdale family, Visconti said she e-mailed everyone on her mailing list in an effort to ignite a movement that draws attention to the intersection and how it could be made safer.
“I’m getting a ton of phone calls in response,” Visconti said. “I’m getting messages from people saying ‘I want to sign a petition.’ We’re not there yet, but we’ll go there.”
Eric Sutton, a 20-year resident near the Highway 89 north intersection, was first on the scene of the accident that took Van Arsdale’s life. Sutton made the 911 call and helped direct traffic until authorities arrived. He said he would support a petition to redesign the intersection.
“I’ve known for years that it’s been dangerous and taken very special precautions whenever leaving there,” Sutton said. “I’ve agreed with some other people that it’s the most dangerous intersection in Truckee. You have short reaction times when you’re going out of there with high-speed traffic coming from both directions and limited sight distances.”
Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger said the state uses an automatic monitoring system to track accidents state-wide. Called TASAS for traffic accident surveillance and analysis system, the monitoring system describes highway segments, intersections and ramps, access control and traffic volumes.
But traffic accidents are just one of the factors that traffic engineers apply when considering changes to roads and highways. Dinger said other information is critical to making the decision.
“It’s not just accidents that occur there; we have to know the reason they occur,” he explained.
Residents of Tahoe Donner and Prosser Lakeview, two neighborhoods with roads that empty onto Highway 89, think they know why accidents occur at the intersection in question.
“It’s blind in both directions,” said Chris Rutz, a resident of Prosser, in a phone interview. “In the winter it’s brutal. I can’t tell you how many grill imprints I’ve seen in the snow bank from people sliding. I’m really sick of seeing injuries and accidents at that intersection.”
Sutton also has his suspicions as to why so many accidents occur there. “You get a lot of truck traffic that’s trying to build up speed going up that hill. There’s a lot of visibility issues on the east side of the road.”
For any change to occur, Caltrans and the Town of Truckee would likely be involved. The intersection is within town limits and East Alder Creek road is a local road; however, 89 is a state highway and is therefore under the jurisdiction of Caltrans.
Dan Wilkins, Town of Truckee engineer, said the town will send a letter to Caltrans notifying the agency of last week’s fatality. That way, Wilkins said, Caltrans will learn about the accident before receiving an accident report.
“We’re requesting that Caltrans perform a review of the intersection to identify any short- or long-term improvements that need to be made to improve the geometry of the intersection,” Wilkins said.
Anyone wishing to participate in Christina Visconti’s safety drive should call her at 448-6807 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.