The number of vehicle accidents on Kettleman Lane in Lodi has not decreased in the last four years, despite improvements designed to prevent accidents on the busy road.
This month marks four years since Motor Officer Rick Cromwell, of the Lodi Police Department, was killed while on duty. Since then, vehicle accidents have steadily crept upwards.
Cromwell was chasing a speeder when his motorcycle struck a car on Kettleman Lane. At the time of his death, the 10-year veteran was patrolling the road as part of a departmental campaign to reduce speeding on the busy thoroughfare.
Today, a permanent memorial of plastic flowers indicates the spot where Cromwell died on Kettleman Lane, a state highway used not only by Lodi residents shopping at the many retail stores along the route but also by commuters travelling between the foothills and the Bay Area.
"It is a transportation corridor, but it's also a sales-tax revenue corridor," Deputy City Manager Janet Keeter said. "We are taking advantage of the retail from both out-of-town travelers and residents.
"Naturally, you will have an increase in traffic whenever you bring in a new business. However, we have zoning and development standards that help to hold the traffic impacts in check."
In the last year, new businesses including the 99 Cents store, have opened, and a Marshalls clothing discount store is expected to open in the Target shopping complex in the coming months.
Big businesses, including Target, Staples, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Mervyn's, Ross and Pep Boys, already occupy the roadway.
And with new commercial construction anticipated at the western corners of Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road, the natural city limit, traffic will likely only increase.
"We're doing all that we can," Mayor Susan Hitchcock said.
Because Kettleman Lane is a state highway, the California Department of Transportation - and not the city - oversees the road construction and daily usage.
"The medians have been great," Hitchcock said. "We have installed signals and gotten rid of turn lanes."
Once Caltrans widens Kettleman to four lanes, that will be "a huge improvement," she said.
The city regularly studies intersections with high numbers of vehicle accidents and looks at ways to prevent them.
In the past, officials have approved safety improvements along Kettleman Lane, including installing medians and prohibiting opposite-direction turns out of shopping center parking lots.
"Even with stoplights, we still have accidents just because of the sheer number of vehicles," City Engineer Rick Kiriu said.
An estimated daily average of 20,600 vehicles travel Kettleman Lane within Lodi's city limits, according to Caltrans figures.
Beginning next year, the city will start a $3.5 million widening project with the goal of making the stretch of highway through Lodi a safer one, Public Works Director Richard Prima said.
Plans include making Kettleman Lane a four-lane strip between Ham Lane and Tienda Drive near Target, and constructing a raised-curb, landscaped median there and between Stockton Street and Cherokee Lane.
A double-turn lane into the Sunwest Shopping Center on Kettleman Lane at Tienda Drive will also be created and the driveway readjusted.
The improvements will provide a continuous four-lane roadway with a raised median from Lower Sacramento Road to Cherokee Lane.
A separate project, referred to as the "gap closure project," to construct a median from Hutchins Street to School Street will be approved at a later date.
City officials hope the Kettleman Lane improvements will relieve traffic congestion and improve road safety.
Because the road is a highway, the project will be paid for with a state grant of federal money.
If construction continues at the western edge of the city along Kettleman Lane, new stoplights will likely be installed, according to the Public Works Department.
Between Lower Sacramento Road and Ham Lane, there are an average of 4.81 accidents per 1 million vehicles, according to figures provided earlier this year by Senior Traffic Engineer Paula Fernandez.
The most frequent accidents involve motorists being broadsided or rear-ended, she said.
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With new businesses opening up and down Kettleman Lane and traffic volumes surging with no end in sight,
City officials are becoming more alarmed that t