FREMONT (KPIX) — One of the most scenic stretches of road in the Bay Area also happens to be the deadliest of 2017.
Since January, there have been 5 fatal crashes along Niles Canyon Road, a seven mile stretch of a narrow 2-lane road that runs from the city of Fremont to Scotts Corner in unincorporated Alameda County.
Jayda Jenkins, 18, was the first to die on Niles Canyon. On January 21, her car hit a sharp curve, smashed into another car, lost control, and plunged into Alameda Creek. Her car was found immediately. Her body was recovered about a month later 11 miles away.
Her mother, Denielle Jenkins, said her life since the crash has been very difficult.
“Shattered,” she said.
Since Jayda’s death, there have been four more: a head-on crash in April. A truck killed a bicyclist in May. A motorcyclist died in June. And in July, a woman was killed when she flipped her car over.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Denielle Jenkins said. “It hurts to know that somebody else’s family is going through what we’re going through.”
Investigators tell KPIX5 there are a variety of reasons for the fatalities.
Fremont police said in some cases, drivers experienced medical problems, unrelated to Niles Canyon road. The driver who hit the bicyclist says the sun got in her eyes and she never saw him.
In Jayda’s case, a winter storm made for difficult driving conditions.
There were also mudslides along Niles Canyon during the stormy season, but they have not contributed to any fatalities this year.
But authorities have identified many dangers along the road. Because it is so narrow with very few shoulders, there’s almost no margin of error if a driver turns a curve and loses control. And studies have found speed is a major factor.
Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said the road is undergoing a four part improvement project which is expanding shoulders in some key areas, putting up signage and safety bumps to slow drivers down. The project is also replacing a bridge and shoring up areas prone to rock slides. The project has been underway for more than a decade, since the early 2000s.
“We’ve been making improvements over the years,” Haus said. “We did have the one project we did have to abandon.”
Caltrans had to abandon improvements for years because of a lawsuit from locals who were worried about the environment. A group called Alameda Creek Alliance said too many trees were being cut down and native snakes and frogs endangered.
“Our concern was really excessive treatment, cutting hundreds of trees and then many miles of cut and fill and large cement retaining walls,” said Jeff Miller of the Alameda Creek Alliance. “This is next to Alameda Creek which is a stream where we have been working to get steel head trout back into for a couple of decades. ”
In 2011, a judge agreed with the Alameda Creek Alliance and ruled that Caltrans didn’t get enough public input before it started cutting trees; sending the improvement plans back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, drivers continue to crash down the road that acts as a traffic alternative to get to and from communities in the far East Bay.
Miller said don’t blame the environmentalists. If improvements take place, they should follow the law.
“Caltrans needs to take a reasonable approach with it. I don’t think you can attribute the whole delay to what happened with the lawsuit,” he said. “Caltrans is a notoriously slow agency.”
Denielle Jenkins said she wants the road fixed now.
“The lack of urgency is ridiculous,” she said. “We have people dying and nobody seems to care.”