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Laurel Curve Barrier Does More Harm Than Good, Locals Argue at Meeting

County Supervisor John Leopold hosted a heated meeting Wednesday night about the closure of a turn-off at Laurel Curve on Hwy 17.

More than 50 Santa Cruz Mountain residents packed into the Loma Prieta Community Center Wednesday evening to protest the on Highway 17.

“I had no choice. I had to close it,” said Caltrans Division Chief Steve Price at the hour-long informational meeting hosted by County Supervisor John Leopold. “It was a liability issue.” 

The death of Brentwood man in on March 16 at the Laurel Road curve was the tipping point for , Price said, pointing out that there has been an increase in accidents at the curve throughout the past few years.

Yet audience members argued to Price, Leopold and high-ranking CHP officers present that the closure does more harm than good. It causes drivers to make risky U-turns on the highway, and increases their commute times, they stated.

Furthermore, audience members repeatedly said,  the barrier could lower their property values and increase the time it takes emergency personnel to reach local residents.

Longtime Laurel Road residents and neighbors Jeanette MacDonald and Erin Hackett said they drive about 2.5 miles north of Laurel Road to make a U-turn at Summit before traveling south to Scotts Valley to drop their kids off at school.

“We’re the ones being punished,” said MacDonald, adding she felt forced to move if the closure is not reopened. 

Hackett said that her commute time has risen by 50 percent every day due to being forced to find an alternative route. She advocated for a double fine zone on Highway 17, “which would do more to stop accidents.”

Another audience member suggested removing the barrier during dry weather, which Price promised he would look into. The state also plans to put in high-friction material in the southbound section of Highway 17 near Laurel Curve in attempts to slow drivers.

“This is just a temporary closure while we evaluate the engineering,” said Price. He added that Caltrans is currently working on getting funds to do an in-depth study of the road.

The Laurel Road exit where the deadly crash occurred March 16 is located north of Scotts Valley and about 12 miles south of Los Gatos' main entrance to the freeway.

From Jan. 1, 2004 to Sep. 2010, 34 percent of all accidents on Highway 17 were from cars leaving Laurel Road, according to data compiled by Matt Olsen, Captain of the Santa Cruz area Highway Patrol. That’s 534 out of 1,558 collisions.

“We support the barrier but wish we could have something where everybody wins,” said Olsen after the meeting.

Twenty-six percent of crashes on the Santa Cruz County side of Highway 17 are at Laurel Curve, he said.

In a poll on Scotts Valley Patch, 98 people, or 78 percent, voted that Laurel Curve is too dangerous, and a barrier is needed. 

“We need our roads safe, and we need our roads open,” said Price. “We don’t think they’re exclusive.”

Sheila Sanchez April 20, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Hi Jeanette, what's incorrect about our report. Please tell me so I can fix it. Much appreciated. I read your comment, but I'm sorry to say I can't figure out the issue with the story.
frobert April 20, 2012 at 04:57 AM
Interesting point. Needs research.
frobert April 20, 2012 at 05:04 AM
People just drive too fast and seem clueless about downhill turning. Educating all seems futile as it will never happen!. What about rumble strips to wake people up before the turn?
John Hernlund April 20, 2012 at 05:23 AM
3) Rumble strips and textured pavement can also be dangerous. For example, if the driver panics upon hearing the wheel noise and brakes while making the turn, then the chances they will lose control of the vehicle (skid, roll, etc.) can actually increase. It isn't at all clear that such devices will help at all. 4) We have to design roads for actual drivers, not for drivers in our dreams where everyone is driving perfectly safely and is afraid of steeper traffic fines. Increased penalties have not been shown to mitigate dangerous driving, only the good drivers actually pay attention to the risk of steeper fines, and they're not the ones we need to worry about. 5) An overpass would still make Laurel curve risky. Caltrans should never put any kind of intersection inside such an extreme curve. A better solution is to divert Laurel Road to intersect 17 on a nearby straight section of the highway, rather than trying to keep the road where it is. 6) The residents of Santa Cruz Mountains forfeited the possibility of prompt emergency services to their homes when they moved out to the boonies. Sorry, folks, if you want a quick fire, police, or ambulance response, then move to a real city. 7) The gov't might not be willing to spend a great deal of money upgrading the intersection to an overpass or tunnel. This can cost a great deal of money, and benefits only a few dozen people.
Shannon Burkey April 20, 2012 at 06:08 PM
I agree that a huge part of the problem is that drivers, many of whom are not very familiar with the road, drive too fast. Something has been needed at Laurel Curve for a long time. I just wonder what the solution is that everyone can be happy with.

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