Safety improvements on the deadliest curve on Highway 17 in Santa Cruz county will begin as early as Thursday at Laurel Road.
Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones announced the changes early Tuesday afternoon, which include a temporary concrete barrier to separate southbound and northbound traffic, experimental high-friction pavement treatment and additional warning signs leading up to Laurel Curve.
Crews will work in the midday and overnight hours starting this week.
“We will evaluate effectiveness and we may decide to make it permanent,” said Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones of the concrete barrier.
California Highway Patrol Officer Sarah Jackson says the barrier may not stop drivers from crashing, but it could improve their chances of walking away if they do have a collision.
“It’s just going to keep people from traveling into opposing traffic and it will eliminate those head on injuries and fatalities we see at this location,” Jackson said.
She drove us along Laurel Curve in both directions, pointing spots where cars hit the guardrail, skid marks on the road and piles of debris.
Laurel Curve accounted for one in three crashes on Highway 17 between 2004 and 2010. Just last Friday, a 57-year-old Brent wood man lost control of his car at the Laurel Curve and slammed into an oncoming car. He died at the scene.
Jackson said the crashes at Laurel Curve look eerily similar.
“They’ll come through the curve and they already have gravity working against them going downhill and at the apex of the hill there’s an opening in the guardrail and they’ll skid right through and go head on with the people traveling in the northbound lanes,” she said.
Both the CHP officer and the Caltrans spokesman both urged drivers to heed the speed limit and the driving conditions.
“The maximum speed limit is for ideal conditions,” said Jackson, adding, “If they’re not ideal, drivers must slow down.”