A 7-mile strip of Highway 101 runs between Paso Robles and San Miguel, but it isn’t a freeway.
It has no overpasses or underpasses.
So, what should we call that strip of Highway 101? I suggest “Death Strip.” It killed four people last Christmas Eve and one more last Friday.
The person killed Friday was Suzanne Tobey, 80, of rural Templeton. She died about 4:15 p.m. when a semitrailer crashed into the car she was driving.
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It happened in the intersection of Highway 101 and Monterey Road just north of Paso Robles. She was trying to turn from Monterey Road onto Highway 101. Unfortunately, to make a left turn there you must first cross two lanes of fast traffic.
A sign along Highway 101 just outside of Paso Robles warns, “Cross traffic ahead next 7 miles.” Another sign says, “End freeway.” For the next 7 miles, Highway 101 is nothing more than a divided, four-lane highway. It also has three other crossroads intersections.
The four fatalities last Christmas Eve occurred in a crash at the Wellsona Road crossroads. The truck driver in that crash has been charged with felony vehicular manslaughter and gross negligence.
In the crash last Friday, Tobey pulled out from Monterey Road in front of a semitrailer on Highway 101. The CHP said the truck driver couldn’t slow down in time to avoid the crash.
So, how come this 7-mile strip of Highway 101 isn’t already a full freeway with overpasses or underpasses?
My guess is that, in the 1950s when the freeway was built, the area was more rural and sparsely populated and didn’t need a full freeway.
But that 7-mile-long strip has long since grown in population and businesses, including a truck stop, two recreational-vehicle resorts and a winery. That means more local traffic. And these days, Highway 101 also carries more through-traffic from everywhere.
It’s past time to convert to a full freeway.
In a column last January, I mentioned some stop-gap measures. They included traffic signal lights at Wellsona Road. I also suggested lowering the speed limit for the 7-mile strip to 60 miles per hour and installing signs with flashing yellow lights to warn motorists of the lower limit.
It’s time to move our Highway 101 “Death Strip” to the front of the line for money for a full freeway conversion. Delays can mean more deaths.
But where will the money come from?
My suggestion is to indefinitely postpone the construction of the high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Why are we spending money on building a dream project when people are actually dying here?