Coastal Commission slams brakes on highway fix

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Sign of the times

We wonder whether the starry-eyed enthusiasm that greeted the formation of the California Coastal Commission in 1972 might have been less radiant had proponents known then how broadly the protection of  California’s coastal resources would come to be defined.

What began as an ad hoc group with a four-year charter has, in the past almost four decades, turned into what some consider the most powerful–and imperious–land use authority in the U.S.

A recent case in point is the Eureka-Arcata Corridor Project, a Caltrans project demanded by residents following a series of horrific car accidents in the early part of the decade.

For the past six years, Caltrans has been working on a range of options to make driving the 4-mile stretch of road from the north side of Eureka to the south side of Arcata less, you know, fatal.

That was until last month when supervisors Neely, Lovelace and Clendenen abruptly decided they couldn’t move forward with the preferred alternative.

Now it’s apparent why. In a letter dated October 5 and addressed to the board, Coastal Commission District Manager Bob Merrill made clear his agency will approve none of the plans proposed to date. According to Merrill, Caltrans still needs to address a couple things, such as:

  • global warming
  • whatever level of sea rise may or may not occur within the next 100 years
  • greenhouse gases produced by the the machinery that would rebuild the road
  • greenhouse gases produced by cars which, presumably, would use the road
  • the dependency on roads that leads to the need to rebuild this road
  • the “intense traffic bottleneck” in Eureka
  • the need for “a guard-rail separated multi-modal corridor” (translation: trail)
  • safety precautions that might have saved the life of a man who died bicycling on a different highway
  • the “growth-inducing impacts” of using an interchange to cross a highway
  • the possible Historic Landscape status of roadside vegetation
  • the “community character and heritage” of same
  • the Commission’s rather precise requirements related to speed limits, signal placement, median width, headlight use, enhanced law enforcement and law enforcement funding
  • the “relatedness” of Highway 101 to other roads, and the bicycle safety, congestion, speed limits, etc. of those roads

Among the commission’s other demands is that Caltrans work with Humboldt County to pursue Scenic Highway status–with the obvious environmental and life safety protections that designation would bring. Additionally, Caltrans must help the county “provide attractive coastal visitor-serving amenities,” possibly including a light rail system. Also, the billboards need to be removed, and anyone doing business in the corridor should be “encouraged” to relocate.

Did we miss anything?

Maybe just this: It’s worth repeating that the commission’s current chairperson is Supervisor Neely who–for those keeping track at home–represents two agencies involved in this project, whether or not their interests coincide. About the only group she isn’t representing are the residents of this county who demanded that stretch of highway be made safe.

Neely has long proven she’s not above playing games with jobs, businesses, industries, economies, permitting processes, development regulations, zoning ordinances, housing opportunities, property rights, tax dollars, grants, committee memberships, public records requests, etc., etc., etc. It’s really not much of a stretch to add people’s lives to the list.