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I-Team: Traffic collisions are up dramatically along I-10 Tune-Up area

An I-Team investigation reveals a surge in freeway wrecks during the I-10 Tune-up currently underway in the pass west of Palm Springs and into Banning and Beaumont.

Anyone who's driven Interstate 10 recently west of Palm Springs into the pass and throughout the Banning and Beaumont area knows the road is narrow, rough, and can be a real challenge.

The KESQ News Channel 3 I-Team crunched the numbers to show more motorists are running into big trouble here during the I-10 Tune-Up construction project.

Motorists agree about the freeway conditions right now.

"It's just a mess. It's cluttered and it's been going on forever, and that's really the problem."

SHELLEY ALLARD, DRIVER

“It’s horrible,” said Diana Lopez. Another driver Shelley Allard said, “It’s just a mess. It’s cluttered, and it’s been going on forever and that’s really the problem.”

The 2 ½ years 210 million dollar project was started in February of last year. The idea is to repair and replace cracked and damaged freeway concrete from Beaumont, Banning, and 20 miles east to the Highway 111 split in White Water.

Only concrete barriers now separate high-speed traffic lanes from construction workers. 

“There’s a lot of work to do,” said Caltrans District 8 spokeswoman Terri Kasinga, “We’re replacing the number 3 and 4 outside lanes because those are the lanes that get beaten up by the trucks. And then we’re doing a lot of repairs in the other lanes, replacing the median,” Kasinga added.

The narrow construction zone lanes are sometimes confusing while squeezing truckers and everyone else. There are also cross-over lanes to keep more traffic lanes open.

Caltrans says the cross-overs create a workspace for construction workers by shifting one lane of traffic to the freeway’s other side using temporary concrete barricades through the center median. But they can also be confusing but allow for more traffic lanes to remain open. Accidents are up dramatically.

The I-Team requested and obtained crash records from the CHP for the past four years through the 20-mile construction zone. There was an average of 410 collisions annually in the two years before the project started. That number jumped to 554 during the project’s first year, a 35 percent increase. 

There have been 443 collisions in just the first seven months of this year analyzed so far. If that trend continues, there could be 759 collisions in the same construction zone this year. That would mark an 85-percent jump compared to before the project started.

Many of those construction zone wrecks have been bad-- even fatal. Seven people were hurt in a July 10th collision near Banning’s Hargrave Street. Four people lived but suffered major injuries.

And the freeway was shut down after this tanker rolled over in Banning on August 31, spilling 5,000 gallons of fuel.  

“Just going on the freeway is dangerous sometimes,” said one driver Elizabeth Farias. “People drive like they normally drive which is fast and loose,” said another driver Dollie Swanson.

Unaware drivers, and increased accidents throughout the construction zone, don’t just impact motorists stuck in delays due to crash backups. The higher number of collisions also impacts officers who are already dealing with pandemic-related staffing limitations, but also more responses, investigations, and related paperwork. All that extra work then impacts the amount of time they can be out in the construction zone enforcing traffic laws and working to keep the freeway open and moving smoothly.

The posted speed limit is 60 but motorists often go much faster. And all too often the CHP says drivers aren’t paying enough attention to the conditions.

"Speed is our number one issue right now."

Matt napier, California Highway Patrol

“The number one problem is absolutely speed,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Matt Napier. 

The CHP says its officers have written 4,400 tickets in the construction zone just since January. 3,000 of them were for speeding. Officers are trying to slow people down like a motorist we observed and clocked by a CHP Lidar speed detector at 94 miles an hour. 

“I think the number one excuse, for lack of a better term,” said Napier, “is they weren’t aware of the speed limit which goes back to complacency.”

The Interstate 10 corridor is a highly traveled stretch of road shared by literally millions of commuters, tourists, and big rigs hauling interstate commerce between Los Angeles and the rest of America.

“You need to pay attention,” said Kasinga, “look at the signs, look at the speed limit before you enter a construction zone.”

The project is one of more than 100 projects currently underway in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties funded by SB 1 state gas tax money, according to Kasinga.

A speeding ticket here will cost you. “When we do write construction zone speeding tickets they do come with an enhancement penalty,” said Napier. “So if you get a ticket for doing 10 over in a 60 zone you will get a double fine as well.” The price could add to more than $1,000 dollars once you tack on the construction zone enhancement, according to Napier.

Napier says all drivers should pay close attention to the signage, any lane closures, and the reduced speed limits, as situational awareness and avoiding complacency is key to your safety.

HOW THE I-TEAM OBTAINED OUR NUMBERS:

Matt Napier of the California Highway Patrol says his agency cannot directly correlate the rise in wrecks in the I-10 Tune-Up zone to the presence of the construction zone. To reach their statistical conclusions, which were requested and provided to the I-Team, the CHP San Gorgonio Office in Beaumont pulled statistics for its Beat 204 which is Highland Springs Avenue to Main Street, also Beat 206 which is Main Street to State Route 62.

Napier said there may be a few collisions that occurred outside the construction zone on Beat 206 but he says the majority of the beat is under construction. "Short of reviewing each collision individually, which is obviously not feasible," Napier said, "this is the most accurate information I can provide." 

Stay up to date on the I-10 Tune-Up and its progress. Read the latest construction updates, provided weekly here: https://i10tuneup.com/

Jeff Stahl

You can watch Jeff every weekday morning on News Channel 3 in the Morning and News Channel 3 at Noon. Learn more about Jeff here.

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