TALENT — Improvements to Highway 99 in town are credited for sharply reducing traffic accidents during 2007, according to an annual report prepared by police Chief Bob Rector.

TALENT — Improvements to Highway 99 in town are credited for sharply reducing traffic accidents during 2007, according to an annual report prepared by police Chief Bob Rector.

Vehicle accidents with property damage decreased 63 percent, from 93 in 2006 to 34 last year. Damage accidents were down last year by 52 percent from 71 in 2005.

Accidents with injuries dropped to five in 2007, down from 15 in 2006 and eight in 2005. Total responses to traffic and road issues dropped to 111 from 170 in 2006 and 182 in 2005.

"These numbers reflect the power of engineered solutions to traffic problems," Rector wrote in his report. "The drop in all motor vehicle accident numbers is a direct result of the Highway 99 improvements, with new traffic signals and protected left turn lanes, and fixing the Colver Road/Highway 99 intersection."

The $8.6 million project overhauled the section of Highway 99 between Colver and Rapp roads. Two traffic lights were added and left turns were restricted. Work began in July 2005 and paving was finished in August 2006, although sidewalks, signal installation and landscaping weren't completed until later.

Curtis Thompson, owner of Video Quick, 102 S. Pacific Highway, agreed that the changes have improved safety. His shop was right in the middle of the construction zone while work was in progress.

"What we can see out there since this was done, the traffic safety has improved," said Thompson. "What was here, coming in and out of our store, was quite hazardous."

Before the improvements, Thompson and his employees saw quite a few collisions and heard quite a few near misses, he said. That's decreased at the intersection, where Valley View Road crosses Highway 99.

Video Quick didn't experience a decrease in business during the construction period, but Thompson wonders if it would have increased. With the new traffic pattern in place business is doing better, he added.

City Manager Betty Wheeler said higher accident numbers in 2006 may have been tied to the actual construction and the damper it put on traffic flow.

"Ninety-nine (reconstruction) was a huge thing. There was lots of stress and road rage during the construction process," said Wheeler. "The end result was getting the signal at Rapp Road has helped immensely. The cleanup of Colver and 99 has been really significant as well."

Before the project, Colver, Highway 99, Suncrest Road and Talent Avenue came together in a confusing arrangement that often left motorists wondering which road to enter.

"They struggled when they were designing it, but I think it works," said Wheeler of the new alignment that removed Talent Avenue from the intersection. "I feel a lot more comfortable using it than I ever did before."

John Vial, Oregon Department of Transportation district manager, agreed that the project has made a difference.

"There's no question the project has cleaned up a section that has been problematic for us for a long time," he said. "You had fairly uncontrolled access at that location."

Traffic controls in the area have reduced the number of rear-end and side crashes, according to managers who report to Vial.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.