More than 500 people have signed an online petition asking Caltrans to reschedule a meeting on proposed U.S. Highway 101 safety corridor improvements so that the hearing can be held in Eureka. The $23 million improvement project, which includes adding signals and an interchange on the stretch of U.S. Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata, is slated to go before the California Coastal Commission at its May meeting in San Rafael. “Our immediate concern is that the meeting is going to be held 250 miles away,” Humboldt Baykeeper Executive Director Jessica Hall said.
Baykeeper started the online petition to hold the item until September when the coastal commission is scheduled to meet in Eureka.
“This is an issue that has been in planning for 12 years,” she said. “If they turn it into a freeway it will make some significant changes in the speeds that people will be driving. We believe given the potential impacts that Caltrans should have that hearing locally.”
Under the plan, Caltrans will construct a compact diamond interchange at Indianola Cutoff, put a “half signal” at airport road and close the remaining median openings in the corridor, including openings at Mid-City Motor World, Bayside Cutoff and Bracut Industrial Park. The “half signal” would allow traffic to come onto the highway heading north and south and allow southbound traffic to make the left turn onto Airport Road but would not stop southbound traffic on the highway.
Caltrans spokesman Scott Burger said speed limits are determined independently from construction mandated by the California vehicle code.
He said the safety corridor speed limit between the Eureka Slough bridges and the Gannon Slough bridges would remain at 50 miles per hour until an engineering and traffic survey was conducted following the construction.
If 85 percent of traffic is found to travel above 50 mile per hour following the improvements, Burger said, the speed limit could rise.
The freeway north of the Gannon Slough will remain unchanged, Burger said.
Coastal Commission Federal Consistency Manager Mark Delaplaine said the scheduled review is a “phased review”— the Federal Highway Administration wants to know that the project is consistent with federal laws before they commit funding to the project.
“Federal consistency certification is required whenever a federal agency permits a project or approves it in some way,” Delaplaine said.
While the project will need to come back to the commission for permits and final approval, this phase of approval can impact the final decision. “If you have strong feelings about what ought to happen, now is the time to get it in,” Delaplaine said. “(The review is) fairly complete and sometimes it ends up being most of the analysis we borrow when we go through the permitting process. It saves us work later if we get this kind of analysis done now.”
Hall said public comment is needed to address what Humboldt Baykeeper sees as issues with the plan, including how potentially increased speeds will affect bicyclist safety on the safety corridor and Old Arcata Road, which she says will see increased traffic due to the median closures. “It’s not clear how they would accommodate bicyclists on an interchange,” she said. “There are things that are not thought out for bicyclists.”
Hall also said the plan does not address predicted sea level rise. Delaplaine said the Coastal Commission is required to hold the phased review by May because of a six-month review deadline. Caltrans would have to agree to extend the time for the project review. It’s unclear if Caltrans is considering the request. “I’ve encouraged Caltrans to listen to it,” Delaplaine said. “We always try to have major projects in the area, if we can do it.”