Experts: Crashes Will Rise, Blame Bad Roads

Lack of maintenance contributes to deadly accidents

“Potholes led to death in my case,” said Nancy Lee.

Her husband Al Lee, 53, was riding his bike along Grizzly Peak Boulevard  in Oakland, when his tire slipped into a pothole on Sept. 24, last year. That’s when Al lost control and “a car hit him head on” Lee recounted. “ It’s so hard to tell your kids that their father is gone.”

In part one of our investigation, we examined the persistently poor condition of Bay Area roads and how the state is actually paying drivers back for their repair bill.  Now there is growing concern that if the roads continue to be neglected, crashes will surge.

Traffic engineer Harry Krueper says he is seeing more accidents like Lee’s. Krueper has over 40 years of experience serving as an expert witness in a growing number of lawsuits against public agencies due to poor and dangerous road conditions.  “The accidents that result are serious accidents, not just small trivial incidents,” said Krueper.

David Ragland from the U.C. Berkeley Traffic Safety Center shares Kreueper’s concern. Ragland says that as the pavement gets older, the hazards increase. As a result, Ragland says, “There can be more rear end crashes, and more run off the road crashes.”

Ragland believes that fatality rates could increase by as much as 40-percent if road conditions continue to be neglected.
Numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that from 2001 to 2010 nearly 70 people were killed in Bay Area car crashes caused by problems with the roadway, such as uneven pavement or poor signage.

Caltrans admits that the state has had a difficult time keeping up with needed repairs, citing a lack of funding. However, the agency insists that this has not impacted safety.

“We have only 40-percent of the funds that are needed for us to maintain and rehabilitate our roadways,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Traci Ruth. “Our crews go out on a daily basis and repair what they can repair daily.”

Despite these budgetary challenges, Krueper believes that the state should be doing more to warn the public where hazards exist.

Krueper cited a stretch of Highway 12 near Fairfield where the accident rate nearly tripled during a five year period, as an example. “That’s because the state took so long to install a median,” Said Krueper. “It is taking the State of California a long time to budget their money for that type of roadway.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission says Caltrans would need to increase maintenance spending by 177 percent to improve road conditions from “poor” to “good.” That equates to $975 million dollars a year.

Nancy Lee has filed a lawsuit against the City of Oakland for negligence following her husband’s death.

A representative from the city told us they could not comment on the case due to pending litigation.

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