"We need the public's support of SB3 (Senate Bill 3, the Vasco Road Double Fine Zone bill)," Torlakson told a press conference Aug. 18, held at the Brentwood Police Department headquarters. Torlakson said he sent the bill to the governor for his signature. The governor has until Aug. 28 to either sign or veto the bill. If he does neither, the bill will automatically become law.
"I'd like to see people writing and e-mailing and calling the governor," Torlakson said. "The bill is on the governor's desk right now, but it's only a small piece of the puzzle. Much more needs to be done. It's intolerable to leave things the way they are."
Torlakson will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. Sept. 5 in the Brentwood City Council Chambers to look for ways to finance a median barrier. In addition to SB3, Torlakson is also the author of Proposition 1B, a $20 billion bond measure on the November ballot that would earmark money for road improvements. Another bond measure, Proposition 1A, would prevent the governor and legislators from raiding transportation funds for other purposes. It also would require the state to repay money that has already been tapped for uses other than transportation projects.
In the meantime, however, Torlakson said doubling traffic fines for speeders will help make the winding, heavily used road safer. Signs warning motorists about the double fines also would be posted along the corridor.
"Double fines do work," said Torlakson. "We've seen the results on other dangerous roads. They're a consequence of breaking the law and endangering people's lives."
According to Torlakson, Vasco is "the number-one killer road in Alameda and Contra Costa counties and one of the top two or three in the state - if not number one."
Steps have been taken in recent years in an effort to make the road safer. Bright yellow vertical delineators were installed in some spots, as were rumble strips, to alert drivers drifting out of their lane. "Drive Safe/Stay Alive" signs are posted along both sides of the road.
Speed might well have been a factor in the most recent fatal crash. A Ford Tempo carrying the four men veered into oncoming traffic and was hit broadside by a Ford Expedition driven by Rosa Osborn of Oakley, who was not seriously injured. The driver of a third vehicle, a Ford Explorer, swerved to avoid the collision and flipped several times. The woman driver, also an Oakley resident, suffered a serious hand injury, according to Highway Patrol spokesman Scott Yox, who also attended the Aug. 18 meeting.
Osborn also attended the press conference and spoke briefly to the gathering.
"On Monday, I almost became a statistic," she said, choking back tears. "All the people in the car that hit me died. I'm so lucky to be alive."
At a meeting with law enforcement and elected officials and members of the Vasco Road Advisory Task Force following the press conference, Torlakson asked for suggestions from those in attendance.
"Something has to be done and done soon," he said. "This is a critical situation. We can't wait any longer. We have to have quick action."
Since 2000, there have been 16 fatalities on Vasco Road in Contra Costa County; fatality numbers for the Alameda side were not available. Torlakson pointed out that the road is a heavily used commute corridor, which adds to the problem.
"There's been a huge increase in commute traffic over the past 10 years," he said. "The number of cars using Vasco has gone up from about 16,000 daily a decade ago to about 22,000 now and heading to 25,000. In about 10 years time it's grown from a rural country road to a major commute corridor."
Brentwood Councilwoman and task force member Annette Beckstrand told the gathering that without the passion and commitment of volunteers on the task force, none of the current improvements would be in place.
But she added that more must be done. "We need a regional partnership between Brentwood, Livermore and Alameda and Contra Costa counties," she said. "I know Livermore is very eager to partner with us."
Supervisor Mary Piepho told the gathering that "Contra Costa remains a committed partner" in the effort to make the road safer. "But we do need the public's support of SB3. Both the county and the CHP have been very aggressive in educating the public. But we need to take further steps. I agree that double fines do work. I saw that happen on Highway 4 on the section between Byron and Discovery Bay."
Torlakson said that ultimately the two cities and counties and the state legislature must find a way to fund a median barrier. "That's the only long-term solution," he said. "We're going to have to be creative and act quickly, even if it requires emergency legislation."