Caltrans releases draft environmental impact report for Last Chance Grade for public comment | Wild Rivers Outpost



Jessica Seiner Andrews / Today @ 5:06 pm / Infrastructure, Roads

Caltrans releases draft last-chance grade environmental impact report for public comment

The 6,000-foot tunnel is one of two options Caltrans is considering for a bypass near Last Chance Grade. | Visual simulation provided by: Caltrans District 1

Caltrans has begun a public comment period on a draft environmental impact report focusing on two bypass options near Last Chance Grade.

The department released the documents to the public about 10 days after District 1 Director Matt Brady told the state Transportation Commissioner that the project is about a year ahead of schedule on approvals and environmental documentation.

The draft EIS also comes about two months after Route 101 reopened to two-way traffic for the first time in nearly nine years in slippery areas. Brady told the California Transportation Commission, which met Dec. 7 in Riverside, that traffic was briefly halted again about two weeks ago due to mudslides caused by severe weather.

“If this landslide happens and this area collapses…people won’t be able to get kidney dialysis in Eureka, for example,” Brady said. “And the Yurok people on the south side can’t go to the schools on the north side. There are a lot of farms, dairy farms, agricultural farms near the Smith River, so commerce also stops.”

A virtual open house focused on Last Chance Grade is scheduled for January 24, 2024 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The deadline for comments on the draft EIR is February 13, 2024.

Brady said the two-lane road, about three miles long, is slowly flowing into the ocean. It has sunk about 30 feet in some places, and about 40 feet and inches to the west.

Caltrans’ draft environmental impact statement focuses on two proposed amendments. One is Alternative F, which includes a 6,000-foot-long tunnel and costs an estimated $1.9 billion, and the other is Alternative X, which is an expensive end-to-end redesign of the highway. Estimated $810 million.

The tunnel option, Alternative F, would include an on-site operations and maintenance center, according to Caltrans District 1 Corridor Manager Jaime Mateoli. There are many old trees with large diameters that will have to be cut down, but the ministry is moving the alignment as close to the edge of the forest as possible, Mateoli said.

Mateoli said Caltrans plans to build a bridge over the wetland and install an elevated bike path.

Alternative X will look a lot like today’s freeways, Mateoli said. Caltrans will try to mitigate landslides by installing dewatering systems that extract water from landslides to slow or stop them. The project also includes moving the highway further east to “gain more time and real estate in coastal erosion areas.”

Alternative X plans to continue incorporating retaining walls on highways. | Visual simulation provided by: Caltrans District 1

Mateoli said if Caltrans adopts Alternative X, motorists will see a new, larger retaining wall on the uphill side.

“This alternative would also require the removal of sensitive trees, and coastal erosion will remain a long-term challenge for Alternative X,” he said.

At the CTC meeting, Tamera Layton, executive director of the Del Norte Regional Transportation Commission, urged commissioners to visit Last Chance Grade.

“There’s nothing like seeing it,” she said. “When you stand on that cliff, you see the ocean below and you see failure above you. It’s breathtaking, and the scope of this project is just as breathtaking as the scope of the solution. .”

District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard said that when US 199 was closed due to the Smith River Complex wildfire, US 101 was the only link between Del Norte County and the rest of California. He pointed out that there was.

“Our entire community lost power for eight days. Our entire community,” Howard said. “And we’re in a situation right now, and for quite some time now, where this is literally our only lifeline outside of the county. This is our only connection to the rest of California.”

Transportation commissioners also heard from Humboldt County Supervisors Rex Vaughn and Michelle Bushnell.

To provide public comments, please submit them in writing to Steve Croteau, Northern Regional Environmental Officer, PO Box 3700 Eureka, CA 95502, or by email to

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