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Carnage on Highway 12 declining

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Posted: Thursday, April 17, 2008 10:00 pm

A year ago, Highway 12 was truly a corridor of death.

Five people were killed in March 2007 alone during a string of head-on wrecks from Lodi to Rio Vista.

So far this year, it's been a very different scene on the two-lane Delta road.

Zero fatalities have been reported from Lodi to Fairfield, and just one head-on crash, on the Rio Vista bridge in March, has taken place.

Law enforcement and political leaders from across the region met in Lodi at Hutchins Street Square Thursday to talk about Highway 12 safety.

They praised several recent efforts - from stepped-up patrols to public safety campaigns to recent road improvements - for curbing the carnage.

"I think all of that, in fact, has made a difference," Rio Vista Police Chief Bill Bowen said, noting his officers were "rolling to head-ons constantly" on Highway 12 a year ago.

"This time last year was just horrible," added California Highway Patrol Officer Willy Williford, based in Fairfield.

CHP officers have targeted the road from interstates 5 to 80 in recent months, racking up hundreds of citations for speeding and reckless driving.

The increased patrols are made possible by a $1.1 million state grant awarded in January through the Office of Traffic Safety.

Several leaders and members of the public said they're happy to see road improvements - like rumble strips near Lodi, plastic channelizers in Rio Vista and temporary concrete barriers near Suisun City - but aren't satisfied with the highway yet.

"It's an intermediate fix," said George Sasaki, a retired Rio Vista resident who attended the Highway 12 Safety Coalition meeting, a gathering required to fulfill the grant's conditions. "I think it's helped a lot, but it's not a permanent solution."

Transportation leaders from across the region agree Highway 12 needs to be expanded to four lanes, with a permanent concrete barrier down the middle.

And while politicians are seeking funds for such a project, the hundreds of millions of dollars to accomplish that goal aren't there now.

In the meantime, increased patrols will continue through at least March 2009, when the state grant runs out.

"It's a stop-gap measure," Lodi City Councilman Bob Johnson said. "After that grant runs out … you always wonder or worry: 'Will the recklessness rebound?'"

  • The California Transportation Commission in March approved $49.4 million for the highway. That will go to widen shoulders and reconstruct the road along the its 4-mile Bouldin Island stretch.
  • In January, the San Joaquin County Council of Governments set aside an additional $6 million to go toward intersection improvements at Guard, Peatland and Corriea roads, all west of Interstate 5. SJCOG now has a total of $26 million earmarked for improvements, much of it marked for overhauling the Tower Park Marina intersection with the highway.
  • A double-fine zone targeting speeders and drunken and reckless drivers from Interstate 5 to Interstate 80 became law Jan. 1. Stepped-up patrols followed in March, the result of a new state grant.
  • A new Highway 12 Corridor Advisory Committee formed this spring and will meet for the first time May 22. It includes elected leaders from San Joaquin, Sacramento and Solano counties.
  • A new stoplight was installed at Davis Road and Highway 12, and began operating in March.

    - News-Sentinel staff

Contact reporter Chris Nichols at chrisn@lodinews.com.

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