Highway 17 High-Friction Surface, Concrete Median Reduce Crashes

Concrete median barrier and nonslip surface at Laurel Curve have helped decrease dangerous car wrecks on dangerous highway.

Workers install concrete median on Highway 17 near Laurel Curve in March of 2012. Photo courtesy Caltrans
Workers install concrete median on Highway 17 near Laurel Curve in March of 2012. Photo courtesy Caltrans
A high-friction treatment surface used specifically on Laurel Curve on southbound Highway 17 to help drivers avoid high-speed crashes is working along with a concrete median installed in March of 2012, Caltrans officials said Wednesday.

Laurel Curve is located south of Scotts Valley and about 12 miles south of Los Gatos' main entrance to the freeway.

The "sand-paper" like treatment was applied in July of 2012 to that section of the highway and is generally only used along short segments of roadway or isolated curves near high accident rate locations such as Laurel Curve, said Caltrans spokesman Bernard Walik.

The downside of the treatment is that it wears out much faster than other pavements; therefore; it requires a higher level of maintenance compared to other paving surfaces such as open-graded asphalt, Walik added.

"So far in our analysis, the benefits of this type of nonslip surface are highest over shorter highway segments as opposed to long stretches of roadway," Walik said.

The high-friction surface was applied after Caltrans installed the temporary concrete median barrier along the Laurel Curve section of Highway 17, north of Scotts Valley.

The safety measures were taken after CHP reported an average of 30 car crashes a year at the location in a three-year period, from 2009-2011.

Also, a crash the morning of March 18, 2012, north of Scotts Valley, claimed the life of 57-year-old Gerard Wener, of Brentwood, who was driving on southbound Highway 17 in a gray 2005 Nissan Altima when he somehow lost control and crossed into northbound traffic, according to the CHP.

The Nissan struck the side of a Chevrolet Suburban and spun around, then hit the front of a Toyota 4Runner, CHP officials said.

The 4Runner then collided with the side of an Acura Integra.

Wener was pronounced dead at the scene, and two adults and a 5-year-old in the 4Runner were injured and were taken to Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz.

The occupants of the Chevrolet and the Acura were not injured.

The crash shut down northbound Highway 17 and one southbound lane for about three hours.

Caltrans also added a southbound curve warning sign along Highway 17 at Laurel Curve, said Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers.

As the fall and winter weather approaches with possible showers, Caltrans officials are reminding motorists to drive carefully along the Highway 17 corridor, especially around Laurel Curve past the Summit, Shivers said.

The upgrades were made possible through grant moneys from the Federal Highway Administration, Shivers said.

"Anything that we can do, whether it's a barrier, or a surface treatment ... all of these things, plus driver education will certainly contribute to a reduction in these crashes," Shivers said.

Robert Wahler October 03, 2013 at 01:45 AM
I nearly got killed on 17. A lady with a bald tire spun out years ago in a walled section (both sides) with nowhere to go when she blocked my way. Of course, the next guy was going too fast for wet conditions and rear-ended my old Prelude. It was cherry, until then. I just put in new custom seats. The CHP let him and her go, even though he had no insurance or license like many Hispanics in Central CA. People need to slow the heck down.
Robert Roch'e October 03, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Really Robert, the CHP let the guy go even though he had no license and no insurance if that's true then all of us should just drop our insurance, what the heck the CHP don't do nothing at least according to Robert Wahler !
Robert Roch'e October 03, 2013 at 10:07 PM
The biggest problem with that type of barrier is that it is designed to kick a car that hits it back into the lane but at speed it kicks it back right in front of cars in the slow lane and what usually happens is the car gets t-boned and flipped upside down and blocks all traffic on that side of the road on a two lane highway, true this is much better than having the car cross over into oncoming traffic, it prevents head on collisions instead it creates t-bone crashes and flipped vehicles which in this case is less likely for people to die in so it seems.
Robert Roch'e October 03, 2013 at 10:33 PM
The bottom line is that people just drive hi-way 17 too fast and lose control, the best hi-way is a straight hi-way because people can't seem to be able to navigate a crooked road without crashing into something on the road. An astounding 50,765 fatal accidents occurred in June, July, and August from 2004 to 2008, according to data from the National Highway Safety Administration on 100 of the deadliest interstate hi-ways across the USA, but interstate hi-ways in the state of Oregon were not on the list, reason their interstate hi-ways are straighter.


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