A nasty turn in Martis Valley
We all know how beautiful the drive through Martis Valley on Highway 267 is – and that’s what scares me. It’s just a matter of time, I say to myself as I flip on my turn signal well before I need to turn off the highway to enjoy the Martis Creek area, before a gawking looky-loo on his way to Tahoe rear-ends my car or someone else trying to get to turn into either of the Martis entrances.And it’s not like I’m driving along at 70 mph and stop all of a sudden to turn. Nope, I flip the blinker, tap my brakes, slow down gradually and check the rearview mirror to make sure that guy speeding to Tahoe in his SUV – and the line of traffic behind him – slows down. It’s even more exciting to watch that chain of events happen when you’re riding along the shoulder of the highway on your bike – except when that SUV swerves in front of you to avoid rear-ending the poor slob who’s just trying to walk his dog at Martis Lake. Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks this is a problem. Jacqui Zink, the park ranger at Martis Creek Lake, has to navigate the turns pretty much everyday.With traffic increasing on the highway and more people using the Martis Valley recreation areas, she said Caltrans must address the dangerous situation before some is seriously hurt – or worse.”Somebody is going to get killed and there really is no way around it,” Zink said earlier this week.I agree. Making the turn off the highway is a white-knuckle undertaking if there is traffic behind you.But don’t hold your breath for Caltrans to do anything. Zink has had some communication with the department, which pretty much said to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other interested parties: “Good idea, go ahead and pay for it.”That even when the numbers show increasing usage of the Martis Valley areas. Zink said both use areas on either side of Highway 267 get 6,000 to 7,000 visitors a month. In July 2004, about 7,400 people jogged, strolled or walked their dogs at either of the Martis areas. Last July about 7,800 people were tallied.Even with all that usage, the only way Caltrans will pay for building turn lanes – particularly during tight state budgets – is after the death toll or accident rate hits a certain number. And because the accident concentration is not high enough in Martis Valley, safety funds won’t be used to fix the problem, and without a flush state budget there just isn’t any money to get it done. Other than widening the highway there is no minor project that will reduce the problem.So the folks who pay their taxes for just such things will continue to tap their brakes, squeeze the wheel and hope for the best.”There have been skid marks and broken tail lights” at the turn for Martis Lake, Zink said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take.”Actually we do, but how do you put a price on a life?Jamie Bate is the editor of the Sierra Sun. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.