Browns Valley resident Tom Hale has spent decades driving on Highway 20 and currently lives in the approximately 40-home Valley of the Eagles subdivision off the highway. Caltrans has been conducting roadway improvements to Highway 20 but Hale says the agency overlooked a critical addition to the improvements in not designing left turn lanes to help residents turn onto Stacey Anne Drive and Escheman Lane – the only two main roads in and out of the subdivision.
“It’s a death trap waiting to happen,” Hale said.
He said the road improvements made by Caltrans have been so good that they’ve led to an increase in traffic. Other aspects of the improvements have not helped the situation at the two intersections. Hale said the highway has been elevated making it difficult to see Stacey Anne Drive. In addition, an extended passing lane has sped up traffic that comes around a blind curve. Once around the curve, drivers have to be aware of cars stopping in the one lane roadway that are making a left turn at Stacey Anne. Cars making the left turn have cars coming behind them and when making the left turn have to cross two lanes of traffic coming from the other direction, according to Hale.
“This is even worse than it was before,” Hale said.
He said he’s been a driver in both situations. A left turn onto Escheman Lane is no longer possible with the addition of double yellow lines.
“It’s just treacherous,” Hale said. “It is freaking treacherous. It’s the stupidest design.”
On Nov. 12, Hale met with Caltrans representatives who explained why the left turn lanes had not been installed. Caltrans Project Manager Johny Tan said Caltrans has been contacted via email by residents and is looking for solutions and evaluating options at the intersection.
Tan said from January 2010 to October 2021, there have been two collisions recorded in that area of the highway. One was a rear ending in 2015 and the other a hit object in 2016.
“Since we have little to no collision history in the area we would not have been able to generate any type of project there,” Tan said in an email.
He said a left turn lane could work at Stacey Anne Drive, but before anything can be installed, Caltrans would need to perform engineering studies that include evaluations of traffic volumes, collision data and roadway geometry.
“If we had included a left-turn pocket in the project at that location from the very beginning, it would have required additional right of way, which may have included a full acquisition of the parcel to the north of that intersection,” Tan said. “However, based on the originally proposed scope of work, a left-turn pocket at that location was not included at that location.”
The Highway 20 pavement rehabilitation project has included widening for eight-foot shoulders along Highway 20; replacement of Dry Creek Bridge with wider shoulders and a pedestrian path; improving horizontal and vertical curves to improve sight stopping distance; upgrading metal beam guard railing; rehabilitating drainage facilities; extending truck climbing lanes; added lighting to improve stopping sight distance at a sag vertical curve; left and right turn lanes at Sycamore Ranch RV Park and Browns Valley School Road; improving the intersection of Highway 20 and Browns Valley School Road; and adding a two-way left-turn lane between the Hammon Grove Park driveway and east of Too Handy Road, according to Tan.
He said discussions are ongoing with the project development team regarding improvements to address the concerns of local residents about the lack of a left turn lane. The options could include adding right of way but Caltrans is also looking at options that fit within the current right of way.
“At this time, we are evaluating various options at this location and will let the residents know about our action in the coming weeks,” Tan said.
Yuba County Public Works Director Dan Peterson said the county has had several conversations with residents about the complaints. He said public works has discussed adding signage to the intersection with Caltrans.
“Absent any history of accidents, this will be a low priority for Caltrans to widen Highway 20 and add left-turn lanes,” Peterson said in an email. “The recent Highway 20 project did slightly improve this intersection.”
District 5 Supervisor Randy Fletcher has spoken with Hale about his concern. He said he is in favor of placing signage to encourage drivers to slow down. He said a byproduct of improved roadways is drivers who speed and may not respond to signage.
“Certainly Caltrans and public works and myself will be monitoring it,” Fletcher said.
Hale said he’s been asking for signs to be put up around the intersection but hasn’t seen anything done. His solutions include terminating the passing lanes further back so traffic is not coming toward Stacey Anne Drive as fast. He said when he’s been in the situation to make a left turn at Stacey Anne, he’s had to pull into oncoming traffic to allow drivers behind him to pass.
“It’s illegal as heck,” Hale said. “... You have to do it just to make the turn.”