Over the Hill

I drive this deadly stretch of Hwy. 101 every day. Every day, it’s a gamble.

A pickup waits to enter Highway 101 at the intersection of Wellsona Road.
A pickup waits to enter Highway 101 at the intersection of Wellsona Road. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

“I feel like a fugitive from th’ law of averages,” said Willie to his buddy Joe. They were World War II American soldiers, crouched behind a pile of rubble as enemy bullets whizzed around them. They were characters in cartoons drawn by Army Sgt. Bill Mauldin for the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

I also feel like a fugitive from the law of averages every time I drive on that 7-mile non-freeway segment of Highway 101 that’s just north of Paso Robles. It’s just an “expressway,” not a “freeway.” It has no overpasses or underpasses. It has crossroads. People have been killed and injured there.

You probably read the news that on April 27 there was another fatal collision on that deadly non-freeway. That makes a total of eight fatal crashes there since December 2014.

You probably also read in The Tribune that the trial started last week for the truck driver who was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter in the 2014 Christmas Eve collision there that killed four people.

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I confess I have a personal interest in that deadly stretch of Highway 101. I drive on part of it every day to visit my wife, Mamie, at the nursing home where she’s a resident. And like Willie in Bill Mauldin’s cartoon, I’m also starting to “feel like a fugitive from the law of averages.”

Every afternoon, I leave the nursing home by way of a side road leading to that non-freeway part of Highway 101. I stop and carefully turn left onto the non-freeway. Its four lanes of traffic whiz in both directions at freeway speeds.

I wish for a real freeway with overpasses and with merging lanes that take you to the slower, safer right-hand traffic lanes. The non-freeway’s merging lanes dump me into the faster, riskier left-hand lanes.

I’m also concerned about the people who work in the nursing home. We’ve become friends during Mamie’s two years there. The staff members face the same driving risks I do.

But state officials oppose lowering the speed limit on the 7-mile non-freeway. They also oppose installing traffic signal lights. The Tribune reported last November that state officials think traffic lights and a slower speed limit might surprise drivers who are accustomed to freeway speeds. The drivers might react dangerously.

I think it’s time to do some new thinking. Maybe drivers would be more likely to obey lower speed limits on this non-freeway stretch of road if it didn’t look so much like a freeway. Maybe the state should allow billboards along it. Or maybe the state should build billboards and rent them.

I’m sure somebody out there has better ideas than that. Let’s hear them. Otherwise, we’ll just continue to be fugitives from the law of averages.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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