In preparation for the upcoming state Coastal Commission hearing on the Arcata-Eureka 101 Corridor Project, the Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on which members will speak for the county.
According to a county report, the board is requesting that 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace and 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass — who represent Arcata and Eureka, respectively — present a letter supporting a pedestrian-bike trail connecting the cities at the federal consistency hearing on Thursday at the Wharfinger Building.
“Unless Caltrans will commit to the trail and control of the area around it, the Coastal Commission will continue to reject the proposal,” Lovelace said.
The 50 mph safety corridor on Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka was established in 2002, due to high rates of traffic collisions at the six T-junctions along the route. It was intended to be a temporary solution while Caltrans developed a permanent one.
The preferred alternative proposed by Caltrans is a $46 million project to close the medians, install a half-signal at Airport Road and raise the freeway by 25 feet at the Indianola Cutoff with on- and offramps to allow cross traffic to pass below. In a report, Coastal Commission staff argue that the proposed interchange would cause more people to use the freeway, and road expansions only qualify under the Coastal Act if they are necessary to maintain the existing capacity, and if there is no other alternative. The report states that anticipated increased use could do environmental damage to the wetlands, as well as make the freeway more dangerous for cyclists.
Commission staff also state that the overpass will harm the visual character of the area, because it will obscure the view of the bay.
Staff suggested that a trail would satisfy the Coastal Act’s public access and recreation policies for the commission to sign off, but that will only happen if Caltrans can make a firm commitment to make sure it gets funded.
“The Coastal Commission is doing what they’re supposed to do,” Lovelace said. “They’re laying out a path to make this project consistent with the Coastal Act. But unless this commitment is made, their staff will continue to recommend denial.” Caltrans employees have argued that they have not been able to promise a trail because the some of land next to the freeway is owned by the North Coast Rail Authority.
“To the Coastal Commission, this is not a negotiation. This is a consistency hearing. They want to know if it’s consistent with the Coastal Act,” Lovelace said. “The board has not taken a stance on the actual proposal. All we can do is try to convince both parties to not start back at square one.” Lovelace said that when the board voted 3-2 to dedicate Statewide Transportation Improvement funds for the first phase of the project in 2011, he was one of the dissenting votes because the project didn’t include a trail aspect.
“If the project goes through without the trail, it may never happen,” he said. “I’m not willing to close those options.”
Lovelace said one of the issues is that there are a lot of different, yet specific, concerns with the project. “The project may not manage to resolve all of them, but if it at least resolves some of them, maybe everyone will realize this project isn’t perfect. It just needs to happen,” he said. “I’m not convinced this is the best solution, but I’ve looked and looked and looked and I can’t see another one.”