Traffic accidents spike on Hwy 17 since start of the year

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- According to CHP, over 60,000 people drive Highway 17, the 26-mile roadway that runs south from San Jose to Santa Cruz.

Margaret, who only gave her last name, drives Highway 17 every day to get to work. She says this year has been bad.

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When asked if she senses an increase in accidents just from last year, she responds by saying, "Definitely, (based) just how many accident I see, and how many times I am late to work!"

According to Santa Cruz CHP, there have been 521 traffic accidents between January 1 and March 17 of this year. That's 30 more accidents from the same time last year.

This winter's heavy rain and snow made for dangerous driving conditions. But CHP says speeding is also a big problem.

"Upon further investigation of these collisions, we did come to a conclusion that they did result due to speeding and tailgating," explains Officer Julieta Trenado with Santa Cruz CHP.

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Since 2003, over $250 million has been spent on improvements to Highway 17. And more projects are in the pipeline.

In a letter dated March 7, Caltrans lays out projects that are underway, including more setting up more warning signs, electronic message boards and other road improvements.

Luis Mendez, the deputy Director of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, says they take a three-prong approach to Highway 17: engineering, enforcement and education. But adds, despite the improvements, drivers have to do their part.

"We need to follow, not just the speed limit laws, but also follow the rules of the road, and take precautions when the weather is bad, or other conditions that make it such that we should slow down," says Mendez.

Mendez says the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission pays the CHP $50,000 for extra patrols along Highway 17. He says there is also money coming from voter-approved Measure D, a sales tax that provides funding for road maintenance.

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