Caltrans plans millions in improvements to safety corridor

Attendees of meeting lament future loss of eucalyptus trees

A panel answers questions from those in attendance about projects planned to improve safety along U.S. Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata. (Ruth Schneider — The Times-Standard)
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Several people lamented the future loss of a grove of eucalyptus trees that will be removed to make way for a portion of the Humboldt County waterfront trail during a public meeting Tuesday night. The meeting looked at proposed improvements to the safety corridor along U.S. Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata.

The potential removal of 40% of the grove — what one resident at the meeting called a “visual monument in Humboldt County” — was a point of contention.

“We’re going to be catering to a few people and chopping down a grove that Humboldt County dearly loves,” one woman mourned.

The purpose of Tuesday evening’s meeting hosted by Caltrans was to look at five projects proposed for the safety corridor aimed at improving safety, reducing vehicle miles traveled, creating a multi-modal corridor and reducing greenhouse gases.

“It’s a little ironic that you are worried about greenhouse gases and you are going to cut down all those trees,” one resident said.

The largest project discussed would cost nearly $35 million to create an undercrossing at Indianola Cutoff and a half-signal at Jacobs Avenue and Airport Road. The Indianola Cutoff intersection has more than double the state average of traffic collisions, which Caltrans believes will be addressed with the proposed intersection.

Caltrans project manager Jeff Pimentel asked attendees of the meeting to think about those who travel the corridor regularly.

“Think of all the people you know and love … and travels every day,” he said. “I can’t stress enough the importance of this project.”

The other projects include longer acceleration and deceleration lanes at intersections along the corridor, three stretches of cable median barriers, replacement of the Jacoby Creek Bridge that dates to 1920, and replacement of existing tide gates. There are also plans to do mitigations work to offset impacts to wildlands. The mitigation project includes removing 25% of the invasive cordgrass in the Humboldt Bay salt marsh.

Four of the projects will go before the California Coastal Commission during its June meeting in San Diego. When the Coastal Commission makes a decision on the projects was a heated issue Tuesday night.

Humboldt Baykeeper executive director Jennifer Kalt called the move “totally inappropriate” considering there would be a Coastal Commission meeting in Eureka in August.

“This project isn’t really settled yet,” she said during the meeting. “I am drawing your attention to the fact this is our Last Chance Grade. This will have a significant local impact. … You’re trying to sneak this in in San Diego. Please, please don’t do that.”

“It will greatly reduce local participation,” one attendee added.

Pimentel said waiting puts the funding at risk because the project is slated for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

“Our hands are tied,” he said. “The funding is at risk if we don’t deliver by June 30.”

Several attendees of the meeting who identified as living near the safety corridor noted they are looking forward to some changes that will improve safety.

“It’s time we move forward and get this done and behind us,” one man stated. His statement was met with a smattering of applause.

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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