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Tue, Feb. 18

Blood Alley no more: The barrier that saves lives on Highway 69

In this Feb. 9, 2011, file photo, two separate collisions on Highway 69 near Diamond Drive backed up traffic in both directions. Emergency crews transported one person with head injuries to Yavapai Region Medical Center in Prescott Valley where the 28-year-old was then flown by helicopter to John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix. (Les Stukenberg/Courier, File)

In this Feb. 9, 2011, file photo, two separate collisions on Highway 69 near Diamond Drive backed up traffic in both directions. Emergency crews transported one person with head injuries to Yavapai Region Medical Center in Prescott Valley where the 28-year-old was then flown by helicopter to John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix. (Les Stukenberg/Courier, File)

For many years, it was known as Blood Alley.

Just a two-mile stretch of Highway 69, the roadway between Prescott and Prescott Valley was the scene of nearly 90 deaths from automobile crashes, uncounted injuries, and long, long traffic tie-ups.

Finally, after years of complaints, in 2011, the Arizona Department of Transportation installed concrete median barriers, and that, coupled with limited access, traffic lights, and a reduced speed limit, has cut the numbers of crashes, especially fatal ones, down drastically.

In fact, said Don Devendorf, Prescott Fire spokesman, “I can tell you that we have not been on a head on collision (in that area) since the barrier was built,” which is a change from the days when there were “multiple fatality accidents where vehicles crossed into oncoming traffic.”

“The barrier has had a significant effect on serious injury and fatal traffic collisions in the area,” Department of Public Safety Capt. G.R. Manera said, though “there are still a number of minor injury and non-injury collisions in the area due to the large amount of traffic between Prescott and Prescott Valley.”

The public, who wrote letters to the Daily Courier and Prescott Valley Tribune, pushed for ADOT to act for perhaps a decade or more. And down in Phoenix, the Arizona Republic, in a story about deadly roads, referred to “most notoriously, the ‘blood alley’ of Highway 69.”

Manera listed some factors that made the section of highway more dangerous:

• “There was a high volume of traffic and no alternative routes such as (Highway) 89A that were viable routes for large volumes of traffic;

• “There was no control over the ingress or egress of side roads through Diamond Valley;

• “There was only a painted median which allowed for vehicles to travel left of center at higher rates of speed;

• “No traffic control devices to slow traffic down.”

Students even became activists: in 2005, Becky Fitch’s eighth-grade class at Park View Middle School in Prescott Valley won a national award for a research project suggesting solutions to the problem.

Titled “Highway 69: Blood Alley,” the project proposed that ADOT, along with municipal officials, place grated lines or rumble strips along the side of the highway to alert drivers to drifting. The students also proposed rumble strips between lanes to help cars avoid swerving into other lanes as well as a center median. Students talked to government officials, researched many different solutions and suggested a budget and timeline.

Fitch, now a principal at Franklin Phonetic School, remembers the project well.

“Because they had heard about so many accidents — and, actually, some of them had friends and family members that had died between Prescott Valley and Prescott — and they were aware of the nickname, ‘Blood Alley,’ they wanted to make a change that would, hopefully, save people.”

Fitch noted that their proposed rumble strips and barriers were among the solutions implemented.

“I’m still friends with (the students) on Facebook, and every now and then, they’ll make a comment about the fact that they were the ones that kept people safe,” she said.

Although some complained that the changes were too long in coming, Prescott Valley Town Manager Larry Tarkowski said, “I’m not going to suggest it took an unusual or inordinate amount of time ... The problem was evaluated by ADOT engineers to try to figure out why that particular stretch of road was having the accident numbers it was. They did a study (and found that) impairment was an issue, as well as medical issues.

“The design of the road really met all of the standards, but for some reason, they had all of the crossover accidents,” he said.

There are still less serious crashes in the area, of course, and Manera said those could be cut down as well.

“If drivers obey the posted speed limits and pay attention while driving, that will reduce the number of collisions even further.”

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