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CHP increases patrols on Highway 4

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Posted: Monday, January 13, 2003 10:00 pm

Charles Cornette works overtime towing dead vehicles off the road. The Stockton tow-truck driver also spends more time than he cares to taking the remains of crumbled cars off West Highway 4, between Interstate 5 and Brentwood.

"I'd rather not have the work," the burly driver said.

Regardless of his wishes, Cornette stays busy on the once-quiet Delta highway, which has become a blood alley for San Joaquin County commuters making their way to the San Francisco Bay Area.

As a result, the California Highway Patrol has put more officers on the Highway 4 beat, according to Sgt. Wayne Ashley, of the Stockton-area CHP office. And one Bay Area legislator helped double fines where Highway 4 runs through Contra Costa County.

The state Office of Traffic Safety gave the CHP a grant to fund the expenses of extra patrol.

"We're hoping to keep the accident picture down out there," Ashley said.

The additional officers come at a time when accidents are nearly a regular event on the stretch of road between Interstate 5 and Brentwood. Last week, a Lodi driver was severely injured on the highway, and on Dec. 31 there was a triple fatality.

The regular accidents scare some commuters away from the double-lane road.

"I could take 4, but it scares me," said Virginia Emery, of Tracy, who works at a business park off Highway 4 in Stockton.

She takes I-5 instead and said it is a great inconvenience, but worth the effort.

Despite the deadly accidents, the road has actually become safer in recent years in relationship to the increased traffic, Ashley said.

"What we have noticed is an increase in vehicle use, as the housing has boomed," he said. "It has tended to fill that highway and there is more traffic. With more traffic, people become impatient."

Accidents in Contra Costa County's portion of Highway 4, also a growing region, might drop significantly now that a bill authored by Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, asked Contra Costa Superior Court to double traffic fines for speeders in the seven-mile stretch between Brentwood and Discovery Bay.

Sen. Michael Machado, D-Linden, who represents the San Joaquin County portion of Highway 4, does not have similar legislation in the works.

"It's really too premature to know what he'll submit at this point," Machado aide Jody Fuji said in regard to any upcoming bills for 2003.

Double-fine laws are not favored by many legislators and therefore they are difficult to pass, she said.

In the meantime, Ashley said the key to a safer highway lies in three basic tenets:

"Give yourself more time. Slow down and be patient, and you'll get there safely."

Cornette agrees.

"They hear the weather report; they know there is going to be fog," he said while fueling his large truck at TRK Wash of Stockton. "If they just left earlier they wouldn't have to drive crazy."

The California Department of Transportation is another state agency working on solutions to fix the highway.

There are plans to correct parts of the road, both at Tracy Trapper Curve and West of Tracy Boulevard, Caltrans spokeswoman Tina Walker said.

"Normally the crew will smooth out a curve so the driver has better visibility," Walker said.

Also on the project books are plans to widen and add an intersection to Highway 4 from South River Bridge to the I-5 interchange - about a nine-mile stretch.

Caltrans hopes to install a changeable weather station (which automatically detects changes in barometer and temperature) and message sign by 2006 on Highway 4, Walker said.

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