By Miriam Raftery
October 18, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Residents in Jamul are voicing concerns over a repaving project along State Route 94 that is causing dangerous conditions and delays of up to a half hour. Multiple sources have advised ECM that no warning signs are posting to warn motorists that traffic has been reduced to one lane. The delays are projected to continue through January.
Kim Hamilton, editor of the Deerhorn Valley Antler, says the current situation may be just a precursor of traffic congestion that could occur if a proposed casino at the Jamul Indian Casino is built. Already, State Route 94 has a fatality rate per mile that is nearly six times the countywide average—before any casino is built.
“ SR-94 is already dangerous,” she wrote, citing statistics from a U-T San Diego article on road fatalities on the nearest 10 miles of access to some area casinos.
The countywide average is .44 fatalities per every mile of highways. Dehesa Road, which leads to Sycuan Casino, has a slightly higher 0.5 fatalities per mile. Wildcat Canyon in Lakeside, leading to Barona Casino, has nearly three times the countywide average at 1.25 fatalities per mile. But a ten-mile stretch of Highway 94 near the proposed Jamul Indian Village already has 2.4 fatalities per mile--many of those clustered in the area near where the casino would be built. (see chart above, and map below)
Some local casinos were initially required to open alcohol-free, with alcohol added only after the casino could demonstrate that accident rates had not increased dramatically. Sycuan, for example, opened as a “dry” casino but obtained a temporary alcohol permit four years ago and in 2011, a permanent alcohol permit after a study found no increase in alcohol-related accidents in the area. The tribe has opted voluntarily not to serve alcohol on the casino floor, restricting alcohol to designated areas including restaurants, bars, and a high-roller area.
A study examining the potential link between casinos and highway accidents was published in the Journal of Health in March 2010. The study looked at counties with and without casinos across the United States. It found that in counties with casinos, both alcohol-related accidents and non-alcohol related accidents were higher than in counties without casinos.
Interestingly, however, while accident rates rose in rural areas with casinos (perhaps due to drivers traveling longer distances after drinking), accident rates actually declined slightly in urban areas with casinos, perhaps due to patrons substituting casinos for other forms of alcohol-related entertainment such as bars or nightclubs.
Can the dangers along a highway with a fatality rate as high as State Route 94 possibly be mitigated?
The Jamul Indian tribe has agreed to over $16 million in mitigation, including widening portions of the highway if the casino is built. But opponents contend that no amount of road improvements can sufficiently mitigate the risks on a highway that is already among the most dangerous in our region.
"Mitigation offered is very minimal," Hamilton told ECM, citing access to the casino as a particular concern. She added, "CalTrans put on a terrible `public meeting' with no presentation, just some easels and posters. We tried to compare notes after, but no one got the same information. There was no seating, and they kept us standing. Really hard on a lot of us older folks."
Bolstering casino opponents' arguments, area residents have recently been subjected to numerous inconveniences due to blockages on the highway. A truck carrying an oversized load recently broke down repeatedly, causing traffic delays for several days. Numerous serious accidents have caused shut-downs or delays, raising fears that evacuations could be impeded in this wildfire-prone region during a future firestorm. A planned enhanced border crossing at Otay is projected to increase traffic on this rural highway.
The current road repaving project is resulting in multiple stops, each lasting 5 to 15 minutes, the Deerhorn Antler Antler reports. The website Jamulians Against Casinos reports even longer delays of 20 to 30 minutes in each direction, causing motorists to slam on brakes to avoid collisions. “You can see the skid marks all over,” the website states.
Motorists are advised to take alternate routes, be aware of traffic backups on feeder roads, and use special caution when driving near Steele Canyon High School where students are present.
A Cal Trans page listing highway improvement projects has a broken link for the Highway 94 Jamul project. However the website Jamulians Against Casinos (www.jacjamul.com) has been posting daily updates on the repaving and expected closures or delays. The site also asks residents to contact CalTrans and the Governor’s office with concerns over traffic delays from the current project, as well as concerns over potential traffic impacts of the proposed casino.