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Does painted line improve safety along deadly Bypass?
Jason Campbell

How’s that solid line on the eastbound 120 Bypass past Main Street working out for everybody?
While I give Caltrans credit for doing something about the issue with traffic merging at the last second to get over and head south on Highway 99 – (they painted a line!) – I think that it was literally the least that could be done about an issue that has required attention for years and has  contributed to enough deaths to make that stretch of freeway the deadliest in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
No, I’m not saying that Caltrans is responsible for the poor driving habits of other people – obviously if people just waited patiently for the congestion to clear and realized that they’ll save only a nominal amount of time by putting everybody else’s life in danger then things would be a lot better off for all involved.  And Caltrans is working towards starting construction in the summer of 2022 but that is nearly four years or so from being a reality by the time work is targeted to be completed. That leaves time for plenty of deaths, injuries, and easily close to 1,000 more accidents.
If they can paint a line down the freeway, then they could install some kind of a barrier to physically prevent cars from merging over at the last possible second. Even with the CHP pledging to do more enforcement in the area, the solid line – no matter how thick – isn’t doing anything to prevent people from making that late and potentially deadly cut-in.
Hear me out.
In this very column not that long ago I called for the installation of some kind of separator – either markers, or even a concrete jersey barrier – that would begin about 200 yards past the onramp from Main Street all the way down until the Highway 120 Bypass ends and traffic is forced to either head towards Stockton or Modesto.
I was informed that the plastic pylon dividers would likely do nothing because a single car could take them out within the week they were installed, and that a permanent barrier would likely be struck down because it could have implications for emergency vehicles that need to get around the congestion when there’s an accident in the area. But even that made me think – short of ambulances or fire trucks that are going to an actual accident on the 120 Bypass, I can’t think of anyone local who truly understands the impacts of that interchange that would knowingly tackle that intersection if they had the option otherwise.
There are other ways around it – although the last time that I printed some of those ways, I didn’t hear the end of it for a week from people who were concerned that I was spilling secrets that will clog up our precious backroad routes. So, I think I’m going to keep those out of print this time around.
But I will say that I think that we’re way past some amended line-striping in order to cut down on an issue that has led to traffic conditions that are absolutely deadly.
Again, it would be great if people would just slow down and drive responsibly but we all know that isn’t going to happen anytime soon and unfortunately the next step is the involvement of a government agency that can protect us from ourselves. I’m not always convinced that is the answer, but I surely don’t think that there has been a viable solution proposed outside of completely rebuilding that interchange, and that is a lot of money and many years away if it happens at all.
So, here’s one – build the barrier! Make it concrete, and make it impenetrable, and make it so that if you aren’t in the right lane before you hit it you have to drive approximately 16 miles out of your way to correct course and start heading back the direction you initially wanted. Make it painful for people not to pay attention, and make it so that even if traffic is backed up all the way to Lathrop, there is absolutely no incentive for trying to cut people off in order to save a few minutes that you’ll likely lose at the first red light cycle you mistime when you get where you’re going.
I’m firmly convinced that the same people who cut over at the last second to merge are the same ones who are behind you and try and cut around you despite the fact that you have your turn signal on – the road-rage inducting types that don’t care about anybody else since the whole world needs to bend tot their whim because they’re special and the rules of the outside world don’t apply.
As you can tell, I’ve put a lot of thought into this – I have had lots of time sitting in that parking lot trying to figure out what can be done while I watch people fly up alongside me and try and merge over.
Notice that I said “try” to merge over. I’m not above slamming on my gas pedal to close the gap in a split second – my Jeep isn’t a Ferrari, but it will close the gap faster than you can veer over – and send the message what those drivers are attempting to do isn’t okay. I hope that moment of “I’m holding up traffic with my turn signal during rush hour” dread sets in when they realize that the rest of us that played by the rules aren’t going to play ball. I hope they get honked at.
No, I’m not advocating some frontier justice enforcement to handle this issue, but I absolutely think that the situation calls for something more than a double dose of paint.
How about a camera that can cite violators by catching their license plates? We can do it with red lights, so why not here? I’m not sure about the legal ramifications – just spit balling.
The amount of traffic flowing through that interchange on a given day has never been greater than it is right now, and that volume is only going to increase as new homes dot the valley.
Let’s make the impediment permanent.
The time has come.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.