Gates Pass rollover crash brings safety concerns to forefront

Gates Pass rollover crash brings safety concerns to forefront

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It's a picturesque view, with the pavement being the only thing that cuts sharply through the desert landscape.

The scenery is one of the reasons Penny Miller recently moved to Tucson from West Virginia.

"I can be near all kinds of great shopping, and in 20 minutes I can be out in this incredible, natural beauty," she said.

But even Miller, as a newcomer, knows the dangers of traveling in this area.

"Gates Pass is pretty narrow and windy. It's gorgeous. You come around that (road curve) and you see this spectacular scene. I think people get distracted."

The two-lane road, flanked on the sides by nothing but dirt and steep mountainside, claimed another victim Sunday night, Oct. 22 .

A car rolled about 60 feet off the edge of the road. The 38-year-old woman driver was the only one inside the car, was wearing her seat belt, and had to be pulled up to safety by Northwest Fire District firefighters.

She was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries in a Drexel Heights Fire District ambulance. Those paramedics and firefighters are familiar with, but weary of the territory.

"The problem for us is the rescue situation. There are steep angles, loose rock, and cactus," said Drexel Heights Fire District Battalion Chief Joe Bratton. "You always calculate in your head. Are they on the road? Are they off the road? A lot of times we already have that information given to us though, so we can kind of dictate our response from there."

Sunday's rescue raised the safety concerns.

According to the Pima County Department of Transportation, they are working on safety projects in the problematic 1.5 mile stretch of Gates Pass Road, west of Camino De Oeste and east of Kinney Road, to "scope appropriate crash mitigation measures."

During an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 18, they identified some of those problems to the public.

There have been 66 crashes in the last 7 years, from 2010-2016, according to a presentation they gave at the open house. 43 of those crashes involved property being damaged, while 23 were severe injury collisions.

On average during that period, 3,750 vehicles per day drive on that 1.5-mile roadway.

The most common types of collisions, according to the presentation, were where cars were out of control and left the lanes. Most occurred during dark or dusk conditions.

But there are no guardrails on this stretch of road that the Pima County Department of Transportation said has "narrow travel lanes" and little room for a shoulder or recovery area.

It's why the department is looking into changes in the latest safety improvement plans, including potential short-term improvements of additional curve warning signs, wider edge stripes, speed reduction markings, and edge delineators.

Long-term improvement solutions include paved safety shoulders, realigning the roadway and making curve improvements, and widening Gates Pass Road.

Annabelle Valenzuela, Community Relations for the Pima County Department of Transportation, said they've made minor safety fixes, like rock removal and minor road widening, as recent as 2004. She said, at this time, the study is still in the preliminary stages as they compile more crash data and get public feedback.

They still have the task of "identifying potential funding sources" to pay for any improvements and repairs.

Until then, Miller will continue to take some personal responsibility.

"I've driven this for years as a visitor. I've always felt safe," she said. "But I'm careful."

MOBILE USERS: Download our app on your Apple and Android devices.

Copyright 2017 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.