An effort to improve safety on the winding, two-lane commute corridor between East County and Highway 580 was launched after Patricia Altman, 36, of Brentwood, was killed in August of 2003 when her car was struck by a cargo trailer that had broken off of a truck and crossed over into her lane. She was one of seven people killed that year on Vasco.
Her husband, Jeff, and her best friend, Joanne Flynn, formed CRAVE (Concerned Residents About Vasco Experiences) to lobby for improvements along the popular but dangerous 16-mile commute corridor.
Three years later, the calls for safety improvements reached a crescendo after four Hayward men heading to work in Brentwood died when their car crossed into the southbound lane and crashed into a car driven by an Oakley woman, who suffered minor injuries. Those fatalities brought the death toll to 16 since 2000 on the Contra Costa side of the road.
CRAVE morphed into the Vasco Road Advisory Task Force, which includes city and county officials who kicked the improvement campaign into high gear. Their efforts resulted in the installation of delineators, rumble strips, electronic speed feedback panels, “Passing lane ahead” and “No passing” signs, double fines for speeders and daylight headlight advisories – all of which have helped reduce accidents and fatalities in recent years.
This month marks the culmination of the safety campaign with the start of work on an $8.5 million project improving a 1.5-mile section in the Brushy Creek area about three miles north of the Contra Costa/Alameda County line. The road will be widened to accommodate a median barrier and a passing lane in the southbound direction, along with construction of drainage culverts, retaining walls and the widening of a bridge.
The downside is that construction work won’t be completed until August of 2011, and motorists will face delays as traffic is routed behind temporary barriers. But lanes will not be closed or other work conducted during commute hours: 5 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. in the southbound direction and 3 to 7 p.m. northbound. Temporary lane closures will be imposed during non-commute hours, notice of which will be posted at least two days in advance on electronic message boards.
“It’s fantastic,” said Jeff Altman of the improvement project. “It’s a small step in a big process. It’s very exciting. I was just in the new (improvement) section going to Livermore – it’s beautiful and built right with the safety barrier; it makes it real safe. I think the new section on our side will look similar to that when it’s done. The median barrier makes all the difference in the world.”
He believes his wife would not have been killed had a median barrier been in place. “The barrier eliminates all kinds of possibilities of horrible accidents,” he said. “If someone has a blow-out, if someone is drunk and swerves over, they can’t do it when there’s a wall there. It’s the way it should have been built, but they didn’t. So we will have to fix it piece by piece.”
The piece of road undergoing phase one of the improvements was selected because it will connect two two-lane sections, thereby avoiding the accidents that occur when traffic must narrow from two lanes to one lane and then back to two, according to Project Manager Warren Lei. Most of the funding is coming from the federal stimulus. No funding, however, is currently available for the next phase, which continues the road widening to the north.
In addition to making it safer for motorists, the project will also make it safer for wildlife in the Brushy Creek area. Instead of having to cross the busy road, fencing will be put in to funnel animals like the San Joaquin kit fox, tiger salamanders, badgers, squirrels and burrowing owls toward tunnels under the roadway.