Highway 395 through the Carson Valley is basically a freeway. The fact that the state won’t pay the money to build overpasses and make it official doesn’t really matter. People use it to commute between Carson City and Minden at high speeds, and there are only a few cross streets that meet up with it. It’s a freeway, and people use it like a freeway.
Freeways of course have accidents, because with that many cars traveling at those kinds of speeds it’s inevitable that a couple of them are going to smash into each other. And a freeway that’s not officially a freeway is going to have even more accidents, just because it doesn’t have the built-in safeguards that a real freeway has, like controlled access at the intersections. That’s why the stoplight at Stephanie was so important to get built; it’s a poor substitute for an overpass at the intersection, but it’s better than people darting out into traffic whenever they feel like it.
So collisions at the intersection are one big danger of a highway like 395, but the other big danger has proven to be just as deadly. 395 is a divided highway, but there’s nothing stopping cars from crossing the median and ending up facing oncoming traffic. The median is just a big dirt ditch. At the north end of the valley, it’s a fairly flat ditch, but the further south you go the more steep the sides get. Almost to the point where, if you hit that ditch down by Muller Lane, it acts as a ramp and launches your car into the air. Then you find yourself dropping onto oncoming traffic from above, instead of just meeting them head-on. Talk about a nasty accident.
Surprisingly, this is one problem that the state has actually decided to tackle. This fall, NDOT will be installing a cable barrier down the middle of the highway, stretching all the way from Muller Lane to Jacks Valley Road. The barrier will catch any cars that do make their way into the median, and stop them from crossing over into the other lanes.
Now, the cable barrier is a controversial choice. It was picked instead of the more conventional concrete Jersey barrier because of the cost, I’m sure. Concrete walls can cost 50% more than a cable barrier, and a wall would also affect the drainage in the ditch, something that was pointed out in the article. But cable barriers have plenty of opponents, mostly motorcycle riders, who contend that this kind of barrier can slice you in half, or even thirds, if you hit it just right. There also seem to be some very vocal lawyers who have a bone to pick against cable barriers, although you always have to question a lawyer’s motives. Other studies show that cable barriers are safer, because they have some flexibility to them so it’s like your car being caught in a net instead of slamming into a wall.
I guess the real test will be when the barriers actually get installed, and people start running into them. Whatever the result, it’s got to be more favorable than having those cars jump into the oncoming lanes, doubling the chances for tragedy.