Caltrans officials have pulled the U.S. Highway 101 safety corridor project from today’s California Coastal Commission meeting to allow more time to review a staff report that recommends against certification due to inconsistencies with the Coastal Act.
“Caltrans is currently reviewing the commission staff report findings, and we will be working on our presentation to the commissioners at the September meeting in Eureka,” Caltrans spokesman Scott Burger wrote in an email to the Times-Standard. “We disagree with the commission staff regarding their opinion of the preferred alternative.” The project was scheduled to go before the commission today for certification as consistent with the California Coastal Management Program. Caltrans also pulled the project from a hearing last April after commission staff raised concerns.
Under the proposed project, median crossings or uncontrolled turns across oncoming traffic lanes — including those at Mid-City Motor World, California Redwood Company, Bracut and Bayside Cutoff — would be eliminated. The southbound Jacoby Creek Bridge would be replaced, a “half” traffic signal would be installed at the U.S. Highway 101 and Airport Road intersection, and a compact diamond interchange at the Indianola Cutoff would be built, according to the staff report.
Businesses along the corridor said public safety is a priority.
“If their project goes through, access to our business here at Harper’s wont be as good as it is right now, but we’re supportive of it because it will be safer,” said Trevor Harper, general manager of Harper Motors in Eureka.“The only way we will be supportive is if they include the interchange at Indianola and a traffic signal at Airport Road, otherwise, you’d have to drive too far to get to our business.”
Doc Johnson, owner of The Farm Store in Eureka said a solution to the safety corridor is needed.
“The improvements that need to take place on the corridor are critical to us,” Johnson said. “Access to Jacobs Avenue is poor at this point because of the amount of traffic out there, and Indianola is terrible. They really need to get some kind of structure there to keep the cars from having to try and get across that.”
Gary Rynearson, forest policy and communications manager of California Redwood Company in Eureka, said he is concerned about the project.
“We have two concerns: safe and reasonable access for our two populations, so to speak,” Rynearson said. “One is our employees who come in and out of that facility ... but we also have to have the accommodation for our lumber truck traffic. Those lumber trucks need to come in and out of our facility in both the northbound and southbound direction.” The city of Eureka supports the proposed alternative, city engineer Charles Roecklein said.
“We’ve worked with our citizens who would be affected by this, and I think there’s a general consensus amongst the citizens who will be affected by these changes that they are in favor of the elements of the latest alternative, so that allows us to say ‘We’ve got that box checked,’ and so in other words, our citizens aren’t going to interact negatively to it,” Roecklein said. “At this point, we believe that’s a readily acceptable alternative.”
One of the inconsistencies coastal commission staff found is the Indianola interchange.
According to the report, the coastal commission staff found that the interchange is inconsistent with the scenic view protection policy of the coastal act because its raised elevation would degrade scenic public views and be incompatible with the character of the surrounding area.
Staff also state the project is inconsistent with public access and recreation policies of the coastal act because it doesn’t further statewide coastal trail goals by including a separate bike and pedestrian path component.
The trail issue is important to the city of Arcata, Public Works Director Doby Class said.
“I’d say in general we’re in support of any kind of safety improvements out there,” Class said. “We’re really hoping as part of this project it can incorporate the rails with trails project.”
The project also would result in about 10 acres of wetlands being permanently filled, including those near the Indianola Cutoff, the staff report states.
“The California Coastal Act has strong protections of coastal wetlands,” Humboldt Baykeeper policy director Jennifer Kalt said. “What they are proposing to do along the interchange itself would be increasing the capacity of the roadway, and that’s not an allowable use of wetland fill.”
Northcoast Environmental Center Executive Director Dan Ehresman said the center is concerned that as a result of the proposed interchange, people will drive faster and the needs of the cyclist community aren’t being addressed.
“We really think it is Caltrans’ responsibility to make sure that they’re accommodating the needs of everybody who use the highways, not just automobiles,” Ehresman said.
According to the commission report, Caltrans has argued that the wetland filling meets the allowable use test because it serves an “incidental public service purpose” but staff found it was inconsistent with “the allowable use, alternatives, and mitigation tests of the Coastal Act’s wetland fill policy.”
Roads along wetlands can only be filled “if they are ‘necessary to maintain existing capacity,’ and where there is ‘no other alternative,’” the report states. Staff said a signalized intersection at Indianola would be feasible and less environmentally damaging.
The full report can be viewed at http://documents.coastal.ca.gov/reports/2013/7/W12b-7-2013.pdf.
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