by Ryan Burns
On behalf of the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) and Humboldt Baykeeper, we are writing to reflect upon the Coastal Commission’s September 12 decision to conditionally approve Caltrans’ 101 Corridor project. First we would like to thank the many people whose efforts led to what we feel is a reasonably balanced outcome: from the many transportation and trail advocates, the various municipalities and County representatives, business owners, outspoken members of the public, and those who took a principled stance in the face of opposition.
At the hearing, Humboldt Baykeeper and NEC argued that Caltrans did not adequately explore whether the interchange is indeed the safest alternative, especially considering that the likely increase in speed as a result of the project has not been assessed. The Coastal Commission, along with the majority of the public who spoke at the hearing, disagreed with our opinion that Caltrans needed to look more thoroughly at possible alternatives.
The Commission decided that enough analysis had been done and, as such, voted to approve the interchange as consistent with the Coastal Act.
While we are disappointed that the Commission approved the project without a more thorough exploration of less expensive, less damaging alternatives, we are extremely pleased that several requirements were added that will address concerns that have been raised for many years.
In the months leading up to the hearing, many people with disparate viewpoints all came to one point of agreement: the Bay Trail must be part of the project. Regardless of how the Corridor is made safer for vehicles, most agree that it is absolutely critical to provide a safe route for bicyclists and pedestrians between the region’s two largest cities. Thanks to the Coastal Commission, the Coastal Trail must be part of the project when Caltrans applies for Coastal Development Permits. We appreciate that Caltrans has come to accept this condition as well. Knowing that we are one huge step closer to seeing the Bay Trail built makes approval of the interchange far less objectionable from our perspective.
For years, the NEC, Baykeeper, Sierra Club, and others have also pressed for removal of billboards that have cluttered this scenic coastline. We are very pleased that the Coastal Commission agreed with our call for removal of all billboards along the 101 Corridor to mitigate for scenic impacts of a 25-foot high, ½-mile long interchange parallel to Humboldt Bay’s beautiful shoreline. We look forward to working with Caltrans to remove them once and for all.
Last but not least, we applaud the Coastal Commission’s requirement that Caltrans address sea level rise in the design of the project. The interchange alone will cost over $25 million, and with the 101 Corridor already at risk from flooding and storm damage, it is critical that we plan projects that will not waste public investment while protecting what little wetlands remain.
We know that there will be critics, but we feel the Commission’s decision is one that strikes a necessary balance. Hopefully the respectful tone taken by people on all sides of this issue at the hearing will continue as we work toward a safer roadway, a Humboldt Bay Trail connecting Arcata and Eureka, the removal of billboards that block scenic views of Humboldt Bay, and corridor planning that takes into account sea level rise.
Dan Ehresman, Executive Director of the Northcoast Environmental CenterJessica Hall, Executive Director of Humboldt Baykeeper