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Bypass body count: 7 deaths, 289 injuries

Deadman’s Curve major factor in accidents during past 5 years

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Bypass body count: 7 deaths, 289 injuries

The aftermath of a recent accident eastbound on the 120 Bypass near the Highway 99 southbound transition lane.

GLENN KAHL/Bulletin file photo

POSTED November 22, 2013 12:05 a.m.

Where’s one of the deadliest stretches of freeway in the Northern San Joaquin Valley?

It’s in Manteca.

Accidents on the Highway 120 Bypass have caused seven deaths and 289 injuries during the past five years on the six-mile stretch between Interstate 5 and Highway 99.

The California Highway Patrol reports this year so far has had the greatest number of injury crashes with 61.

The most recent fatality was on the transition ramp from northbound Highway 99 to eastbound Highway 120 when a motorcyclist cutting in and out of traffic at high speed lost control and was run over by a truck.

When the Bypass first opened over 25 years ago it was engineered with only one lane in each direction and a third passing lane that transitioned from eastbound to westbound traffic.  There were more than 20 people killed in that first year of its operation earning it the dubious moniker of “Blood Alley.”

The main issue today is the eastbound afternoon commute traffic that backs up as it approaches the southbound Highway 99 transition ramp toward Modesto.  Hurrying motorists continue to stay in the left hand lane as long as they can and then squeeze into the right lane at the last minute. That causes a slinky-style “stop-and go” reaction in the right hand lane causing traffic to back up sometimes as far back as Union Road and often Airport Way. Because of the role the transition lane plays in the majority of 120 Bypass accidents, some Manteca drivers have started referring to it as “Deadman’s Curve.”

The quick and continuous lane changing creates a domino effect causing rear end crashes often when approaching out-of-the-area motorists are unaware of the dangers ahead of them.  In the last few months there have been two serious incidents – one fatal – where large semi trucks and trailers have collided with stopped vehicles. One was east of South Main Street and the other to the west of the same arterial.

The first climbed atop a late model sedan from Arizona that claimed the life of one motorist as the semi literally climbed atop the vehicle crushing it like a tin can.  There were a total of five vehicles in the crash that closed the eastbound roadway for hours.  The  second involved a set of flat bed trailers carrying sacks of cement that overturned and seriously injured a Modesto woman in her 20s who is still recovering for her injuries that will plague her for years.

There were two police pursuits in past years where fleeing motorists attempted to elude police by driving onto the off ramps of the bypass and becoming a wrong-way driver before traveling across the grass divider and into the correct flow of traffic – another shocking surprise for unsuspecting motorists.  

In a daily repetitive routine the commute traffic headed toward the Bay Area plugs up the freeway in the morning rush as well as for those motorists returning home.  Beginning at about 3 p.m. the eastbound surge of vehicles is more than the roadway can hold – becoming worse when the fast lane motorists crowd into the right lane just before the transition ramp merger to Highway 99.

Holiday weekend traffic can be even worse with motorists headed toward the Sierra and the Mother Lode.  Thanksgiving weekend will be no different with family members headed to the Bay Area to celebrate the day as others travel to be with friends and family members in the Central Valley.  Many who take the Highway 120 Bypass are unaware of the tragic consequences that may await them.

With a minimum of CHP officers on duty in the South County, fire and ambulance units are most often the first responders.  Manteca officers do not respond to freeway crashes due to the liability involved, unless they are actually requested through a mutual-aid call.  In the case of the semi-truck and flat bed trailers roll over there were two Sheriff’s units arriving early at the scene to offer the protection of their black and white patrols cars parked behind the ambulance.

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