Speed, Lack Of Attention Top Accident Cause

Payson to Rye most dangerous section of Hwy. 87

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What is the most dangerous section of Highway 87? The stretch of roadway from Payson to Pine with its numerous dips and winding curves or from Payson to Rye with the deadly Corvair Curve?

Both areas claimed two lives during 2008, but the southern route out of Payson has more accidents than the northern route to Pine.

The most likely place for a collision is the 11-mile stretch southbound from Payson to Rye, according to statistics from the Department of Public Safety.

In 2008, there were 70 collisions in that area, with 26 of those involving injuries, 42 non-injury and two fatalities.

The worst half-mile stretch of roadway in that section and in the Rim Country is known as Corvair Curve, where there were 19 collisions last year.

This half-mile stretch, at milepost 246, is located just four miles south of Payson but is a common place for drivers to lose control and slam into the guard rails.

“The majority of collisions are caused by speed and drivers not paying attention,” said DPS officer Jimmy Oestmann.

The speed limit in the area is 55 mph instead of the 65 mph, which drivers often fail to notice or pay attention to.

“That is a very common area for collisions and during the rainy season people just go way too fast around that curve,” Oestmann said.

“In my 11 years in Payson, DPS has never crashed in that curve, so there are ways to go around at a high rate of speed.”

Coming in second place with the most collisions, is the 15-mile stretch of highway from Star Valley to Christopher Creek with 61 collisions last year, 12 of those involving injuries and one fatality.

In that section of roadway, there are numerous animal collisions, which often do not involve injuries to travelers, Oestmann said. This section of roadway is only two lanes, and has plenty of blind corners where elk can sneak out and easily become a hood ornament.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, from 1994 to 2006, 462 wildlife-vehicle collisions were recorded in the Christopher Creek section, with 84 percent involving elk, and 14 percent deer.

More than half of the 704 single-vehicle accidents recorded by DPS from 1994 to 2005 involved wildlife.

On Highway 260, an elk crossing has been installed to safely get elk and other wildlife across the highway. A system of cameras detects wildlife in the area and alerts motorists with flashing lights and signs.

As you head north from Payson to Pine, the number of collisions drops to 42 in 2008.

Although this section has fewer collisions, it is just as deadly, with two fatalities from Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2008, Oestmann said.

DPS says it is hard to patrol the Payson to Pine area because the older highway has no shoulders.

“It is a difficult area to patrol with no shoulder to conduct traffic stops on,” he said. “Not saying we don’t, but probably less frequently due to safety. We have to keep officers and passing traffic safe.”

DPS patrols high-speed and high-volume areas more, such as Slate Creek, south of Rye and on Highway 260, Oestmann said.

When asked what could slow drivers down, Oestmann said increased patrols, which have proven to work.

Statewide, DPS reports that collisions are down 15 percent in 2008 from 2007. In 2007, collisions were only down 1.7 percent from 2006.

The drop in statewide collisions is partly attributed to DPS hiring new officers. In Payson alone, the force grew from four officers to nine from 2007 to 2008, Oestmann said.

“We were doing a lot of lateral hires, meaning from other agencies,” he said.

“We are full now in Payson, with no plans to expand the number of officers.”

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