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Tue, April 23

Vehicle crashes plague Highway 68, lead to ominous nickname

Common sight: Signs like this one are posted freequently on Highway 68 through Golden Valley. GVG Photo/DONNA NEWMAN

Common sight: Signs like this one are posted freequently on Highway 68 through Golden Valley. GVG Photo/DONNA NEWMAN

GOLDEN VALLEY - State Highway 68 is a straight, 15-mile, five-lane ribbon running between the Cerbat and the Black mountains, right through the heart of Golden Valley, an unincorporated community with an estimated population of 17,000.

Visibility along the busy road is generally good. On a clear day, motorists coming down from the higher elevations into the valley can see from one end of the highway all the way to the next.

Still, the well-traveled road has earned its nickname: Suicide Alley.

Locals say the name resulted from the high number of traffic accidents, too many of them ending in death. In short, they say you're taking your life into your own hands to travel Highway 68.

In 2006, Golden Valley Fire Department personnel responded to a total of 95 vehicular accidents. A few were on U. S. Route 93 at the east end of the valley. Some were on county roads and a portion of Interstate 40 that was annexed into the fire district last year.

But the vast majority occurred on Highway 68.

"Traffic on Highway 68 increased dramatically with the closure of the Hoover Dam to commercial traffic in 2001," said Golden Valley Fire District Division Chief Rudy Barboa. "The Port of Entry on 93 said commercial traffic on 68 through Golden Valley increased about 300 percent."

The five-lane highway comes alive during rush hours from 8-9 a.m. and from 3-6 p.m., when people are commuting to work and school on weekdays, and it remains a busy thoroughfare every weekend, carrying tourists and locals to the casinos in Laughlin, just 25 miles to the west.

Weekday peak traffic times coincide with dawn and dusk, hours when sun is shining directly into drivers' eyes and adding to the danger of fast-moving, heavy traffic.

"There are a lot of accidents at Coyote Pass at sunrise and sunset because of the sun shining into your eyes. Some people have trouble judging speed and distance when they're merging onto the highway, too," Barboa said. "It helps that we have the center lane, but it doesn't help enough to prevent accidents from happening."

An Arizona Department of Transportation representative addressed an audience at the Golden Valley Chamber of Commerce last year about the traffic problems on Highway 68.

He said ADOT won't install stop signs or lights on the highway because it would cause greater congestion and more accidents, and ADOT expects most truck traffic to disappear when the Hoover Dam bypass is completed next year.

He also said ADOT isn't responsible for street lights along 68; that's the county's responsibility.

Barboa projected continued problems with traffic on 68 even after the Hoover Dam bypass is open to truck traffic, easing the load the local highway now carries.

"The bypass will contribute to the valley's growth, and traffic issues will have to be addressed," he said.

"The bypass will open the highway up to more commuter traffic from the Las Vegas area. It's one of the negative aspects of community growth.

"Highway 68 has always had a lot of fatalities. It's sad to say, but you always have to be on the defensive when you're driving on this highway. When it's your loved one involved in a car crash, it's especially sad," he said.

Yet, Highway 68 today is a much safer road than it was 20 years ago.

"I recall a narrow, two-lane highway that dipped and rose with each wash. It was extremely dangerous," he said. "The sides of the highway had a lot of the small, wooden crosses and memorials you see there now. The state moved a lot of them when they widened the highway, and they were never put back. I suppose a lot of the families that kept them up have moved away."

Barboa said that even though Highway 68 is safer now than it was then, it's still a good idea to use headlights day and night when traveling Suicide Alley.


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