Last Saturday there was a meeting in Douglas County to discuss traffic safety on Highway 395, and the residents who attended were overwhelmingly in favor of putting a stoplight at Stephanie Way. The Record Courier has the story. Apparently a lot of options were discussed, but in the end NDOT says they will “most likely” be putting a stoplight at the intersection. This is really the only option, short of building an overpass and turning 395 into a full freeway through the valley. Which might happen anyway, some 20 or 30 years down the line. But don’t expect NDOT to look that far into the future. Just look how long it took Carson City to get a freeway.
And the agency still remains opposed to the idea of installing a stoplight, even though it looks like they’re going to give in to the will of the people. They’re still trying to make the case that stoplights cause more accidents than they prevent. Yeah, sure, if you’re just looking strictly at the numbers. But what kinds of accidents are they? Stoplight-related accidents are usually rear-enders, mild fender benders that you drive away from and can be fixed for under two grand. But the accidents that are happening at Stephanie now are almost invariably side-impact crashes, which usually total the car and send someone to the hospital (or the morgue). You have to call out the ambulance, bring a couple of tow trucks, take hours to clean it up, and it causes the traffic to back up for miles as it’s being cleared. So would I gladly invite more fender-benders at Stephanie if it would stop those side-impact crashes. We’d still be ahead in the long run.
One thing I found curious was that most of the folks at the meeting preferred having a full stoplight installed at Stephanie, instead of just a half light like Johnson Lane has. Now, I can’t see the benefit in putting in a full light. Johnson Lane has a half light because it’s only a three-way intersection. Nobody ever crosses all four lanes of 395, they only cross the two northound lanes while making a left turn, then ease into an acceleration lane and merge into the southbound lanes. The southbound traffic never needs to stop, so there’s no point in giving them a red light. They do have warning lights letting drivers know that there will be cars merging in from the left, and that’s about all they need. I’d say the only problem with the Johnson Lane intersection is that the acceleration lane is too short, and it doesn’t give anybody, especially the big trucks coming from the industrial park, time to reach highway speeds. They need to lengthen that acceleration lane so everyone has time to get up to 65MPH before they have to merge. Hey, why not just extend it all the way down to Airport Road, a mile away? That would effectively make the highway three lanes along that stretch, and would give drivers plenty of acceleration space. Then the third lane would become the left-turn lane onto Airport. And they could do the same at Stephanie, with an extra-long acceleration lane that stretches all the way down to the Johnson Lane intersection. That would solve almost all of the merging problems, and we wouldn’t need to have a full stoplight at either intersection.
Well, it’s not like NDOT is going to listen to me. My advice costs nothing, and it’s worth the price. I wasn’t even at the meeting, since I was home with a sick two-year-old. But the agency is setting up a website devoted to traffic safety on Hwy 395 as it passes through the Carson Valley. The site is due to be located at www.douglascounty395.com, but they haven’t launched it yet. Keep hammering it until they do.