Freeway to Lose Lanes to Make Crossing Safer for Pedestrians

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State transportation officials have received a bid on a project designed to reduce pedestrian deaths in the U.S.-Mexico border area by reducing the number of lanes along Interstate 5 near the international boundary.

Since 1987, about 90 people--all immigrant pedestrians--have been struck and killed on border-area freeways, mostly along I-5. Northbound undocumented immigrants routinely cross the hazardous roadways on foot, seeking escape and transportation.

The new initiative, which is expected to be completed by July, will reduce from eight to four the total number of lanes along a 3-mile stretch of I-5, from the Camino de la Plaza overpass to Coronado Avenue. Two lanes will be pared from both northbound and southbound lanes.

The only bid received, for $88,400, was submitted by Payco Specialties, Inc., of Chula Vista. State officials will now evaluate the bid to see if it meets specifications.

Since 1987, about 90 people--all immigrant pedestrians--have Studies have shown that reducing the number of lanes should not substantially slow traffic, said Jim Larson, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation. The hope is that a shorter freeway crossing distance will translate into fewer accidents, officials said.

"This is a bold move to take away lanes," said Jesus Garcia, Caltrans district director in San Diego. "But since this is the worst pedestrian accident problem in the nation, we feel it calls for some creative solutions."

State officials have taken steps to reduce the deaths, including the installation of warning signs and lights along freeways.

Authorities say the precautions may be having some impact: So far in 1991, three pedestrians have been struck and killed along border-area freeways, and none have been killed near the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint along I-5 north of Oceanside, another prime danger zone. Last year, 17 immigrants were struck and killed along border-area freeways, and 15 more were killed along I-5 near the checkpoint.

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