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Bay Trail Update No. 8

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"You must be ecstatic," said my friend as I sat down for lunch last Friday. It was the day after the California Coastal Commission approved Caltrans' Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project — 13 years in the making.

Yes, I am. And so are a few hundred other people I know and — exponentially — a few hundred others they know. Big smiles and high-fives followed that packed hearing in the Wharfinger Building in Eureka. I even went out for a drink afterward with a group that included 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass, among others. Before I ruin her reputation for being seen with me (or vice versa), let me explain.

The Coastal Commission had come to town to hear directly from those of us who walk, bike, hike, drive cars and recreate here on the North Coast. The subject was the Caltrans plan. Two powerful streams of support came together Thursday to convince the commissioners to overrule their own staff. (If you don't think it's a big deal for a board or commission to overrule its staff, you haven't been paying attention to how government works.) The commissioners not only approved the Caltrans plan, on a 9-1 vote, to close the medians on Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata, install a half signal at Airport Boulevard and — clearly the most controversial part of the plan — construct an underpass/interchange at Indianola Cutoff. They permanently tied the project to construction of the bay trail and, at the last minute, told Caltrans to do its best to remove every last billboard along that stretch. We will see the Bay Trail built before or during construction of the Caltrans' project. And the billboard thing? A cherry on top that none of us expected.

If you've been following any of my "Bay Trail Updates," you already know I got involved in early 2012 with a pair of modest, polite rabble-rousers — Dennis Rael, co-owner of Los Bagels, and Rees Hughes, retired administrator from Humboldt State University — to form the Bay Trail Advocates. (Later, Don Banducci, co-founder of Yakima, joined us.) I remember Rees saying, "Now why can't we have a trail along the bay?" Especially since there was a public right-of-way unused for 15 years by the North Coast Railroad Authority. (Yes, we were not very original. Members of the Humboldt Trails Council and others had been asking the same thing forever.)

Fast-forward through last year ... nine public hearings, culminating in the unanimous vote by the NCRA board to allow the trail to be built as long as it did not preclude the return of rail service. And on a parallel course, the Caltrans plan was being modified, updated and moving forward. Gleefully, we knew the plan needed a bike and pedestrian solution, which we trail advocates hoped to provide.

There is a lot of work yet to be done (including mitigation, which will come up again in the permit process). But it's time to celebrate and thank so many people who got us through this critical step. The first powerful stream of support came from the 101 Corridor Access Project (CAP) working group — the business owners along 101 who have been meeting for more than 10 years to improve safety. Their testimony was critical.

For the Bay Trail, now more than a glimmer in our eye, special thanks to former NCRA Director Bill Kier who, along with former NCRA Director and Humboldt County Supervisor Clif Clendenen, found a way to allow for a trail on NCRA property. (Also, NCRA directors John McCowen and Bernie Meyers.) None of this would have been possible without city and county staffers who really get how important trails are: Humboldt County Association of Governments Executive Director Marcella Clem, Humboldt County Deputy Director for Environmental Services Hank Seemann, and his boss, Public Works Director Tom Mattson. And special shout-outs to city staffers Karen Diemer in Arcata and Mike Knight in Eureka; Merritt Perry of GHD Engineers; and Caltrans Project Manager Kim Floyd, among many, many others.

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