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Deadliest intersections: Experts weigh in on the Auburn area’s baddest of the bad

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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There are no bad intersections. Just bad drivers and bad decisions. But the elements for accidents are more apt to come together in a collision course at a select few Auburn-area crossroads, experts say. For the California Highway Patrol, the momentum-building downward swoop along westbound Bell Road into the Quartz Drive intersection is particularly problematic. Officer David Martinez of the Auburn Highway Patrol office said that while intersection accident counts are not kept, Quartz and Bell is notorious with his department. “People are in a hurry trying to make the light on Bell Road (about 150 yards to the west) at Highway 49 and, with the momentum on the hill, instead of slowing down, they’re speeding up through the intersection,” Martinez said. Martinez said the best advice he has for drivers is to not take chances when the Quartz-Bell light cycles to yellow. That means slowing down instead of speeding up, he said. Inside Auburn city limits, Auburn Police Traffic Officer Chris Forman said the stretch of southbound Highway 49 between Gold Rush Subaru and Interstate 80 is his nominee for a dangerous drive. Much of it is downhill, with a traffic light at Palm Avenue and another at Elm-Fulweiler bunching up heavy traffic much of the day. “The biggest problem is people following too closely,” Forman said. “Speeding is No. 2. It’s causing a significant number of collisions.” Forman’s advice for drivers to is to allow enough “perception and reaction time” for the brain to analyze a situation and react by stopping or slowing down safely. Hall’s Towing has been removing wrecked vehicles off Auburn-area roads since 1964 – when the stretch of Interstate 80 in front of Old Town was known as Blood Alley for the number of collisions that took place. Kenny Hall, a third-generation member of the family business, also listed Bell and Quartz – near Target and Blockbuster – as a problem intersection, as well as Highway 49, from Palm Avenue to Interstate 80. Hall said he’d add two more to the list of dangerous stretches of road. Highway 49 from the Bel Air shopping center to Luther Road has been a traditional trouble spot but improved since widening, he said. And a sleeper is on the westbound Interstate 80 offramp at Highway 49, where skiers and other travelers see the In-N-Out Burgers sign and make the turn in, not realizing how much of a sharp loop it is, he said. “It’s a tight turn, especially in the rain,” Hall said. “We’ve had many wipe out on the guard rail.” Hall’s advice to drivers: “Slow down and pay attention,” he said. “Give yourself plenty of room.” Auburn motorists shared their thoughts Tuesday on where the dangerous roadways lie. Laurie Holz, who moved to the Auburn area a year ago from Los Angeles, said that after watching one driver blow through a light at Luther Road and Highway 49, she’d have to say that would be Auburn’s most dangerous intersection. Auburn’s Mike Simpton, was shopping at Safeway near the infamous Quartz Drive-Bell Road crossroads. He also felt Luther Road and Highway 49 was a danger zone. “And Highway 49 and Atwood Road (in front of Bel Air),” he said. “They have some major accidents there.” Bill Johnson of Auburn said it’s hard to decide on any one area of road because Auburn has been overbuilt and the road network hasn’t kept up. “You really have to pay attention when you’re driving in Auburn,” Johnson said. “I’m actually surprised that we don’t have more accidents than we already have.”