Humboldt Baykeeper has been following Caltrans' Eureka-Arcata 101 Corridor Safety Improvement Project since 2007, when the Draft Environmental Impact Report was released. Caltrans proposes to improve safety along this 8-mile stretch of highway adjacent to the Humboldt Bay shoreline between Arcata and Eureka.

While Caltrans' project on the 6-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 that connects Eureka and Arcata is aimed at improving safety for motorists, the agency got an earful Aug. 7 from California Coastal Commissioners who felt it is ignoring a potentially far more dangerous threat: sea level rise.

 

"This is ground zero," said Chair Dayna Bochco. "We don't have a lot of time right here. The traffic is a terrible problem. The water is going to be a worse one."

 

The meeting — which saw commissioners ultimately approve a coastal development permit for the long-awaited safety corridor project — featured some dire warnings of the imminent threat of sea level rise to the low-lying areas of coastal Humboldt County, including the stretch of 101, which one commissioner said has been identified as the "most vulnerable" in the state. The discussion of sea level rise at the meeting was so foreboding, in fact, that one of the state's highest ranking planning officials walked away saying California needs to urgently come up with a multi-agency plan — and a lot of funding — to begin charting a course forward.

 

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After a long afternoon of public testimony, which included harrowing video footage of near-collisions at the Indianola cutoff, the California Coastal Commission this evening approved a long-planned renovation project from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for the six-mile stretch of Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata. 

 

Voting 10-1, with Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh casting the lone dissenting vote, the commission approved the project, but only after adding some conditions designed to expedite sea-level rise planning, which the commissioners agreed is urgently needed on this road in particular.

 

Executive Director John Ainsworth and Chair Dayna Bochco both referred to this section of highway as “ground zero” for sea-level rise, noting that the land around Humboldt Bay is subsiding as the oceans rise.

 

But ultimately the commission decided that safety concerns are too pressing to hold out for more comprehensive (meaning expensive and bureaucratically complex) planning measures, such as building a causeway or embarking on managed retreat to higher ground for the businesses and infrastructure now sitting on reclaimed tidelands.

 

Construction of the “corridor improvement” project — which will include an undercrossing at Indianola, a half-signal at Airport Road and closure of the other four median crossings, among other elements — is scheduled to begin next year and last into 2026.

 

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On Wed. Aug. 7 at 11 a.m., the California Coastal Commission will meet at the Wharfinger Building at 1 Marina Way in Eureka to consider the Coastal Development Permit for the Eureka-Arcata Highway 101 Corridor Project, which includes an interchange at Indianola Cutoff, a left-turn signal at Airport Drive, and closure of all other medians. 

Humboldt Baykeeper and the Surfrider Foundation submitted comments to the Coastal Commission last Friday. Our top concern is the lack of sea level rise planning, which is critical for this stretch of U.S. Route 101. According to local experts, significant portions of the highway corridor will be flooded on a monthly basis with 1.6 feet of sea level rise, which could occur by 2040. It is also in the 100-year flood zone, tsunami hazard area, and an area of potential soil liquefaction. See our major concerns below:

The “Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project” is on track for a local hearing in August, despite CalTrans’ insistence that it must be held in June in San Diego. At its May hearing in Oxnard, the Coastal Commission unanimously recommended a two-month delay to allow for local input on this massive highway project adjacent to Humboldt Bay. Caltrans had insisted that the project’s funding would be at risk if the hearing was delayed just two months, but has since admitted that the timeline can be moved forward.

 

The California Coastal Commission requested this morning that its staff shelve plans to hold a June hearing on Caltrans’ proposed plans to overhaul the Safety Corridor on U.S. Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata and, instead, to agendize the hearing for the commission’s August meeting in Eureka.

 

Surfrider Foundation California Policy Manager Jennifer Savage also addressed the commission during its public comment period.

Savage said the project — which seeks to spend roughly $35 million to build a new interchange at Indianola Road, replace the Jacoby Creek Bridge, add a stoplight at Airport Road and close all other medians on the roughly 7-mile stretch of highway — is complex and decades in the making.

 

“Our community really deserves a chance to weigh in,” Savage said, before charging that Caltrans’ plans have so far failed to analyze the impacts construction will cause to alternate routes, like Old Arcata Road and State Route 255 through the Samoa Peninsula.

Savage also criticized the project’s review for not addressing projected sea level rise, and charged that Caltrans’ public engagement efforts have been inadequate.

 

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