Anyone who has ever driven south on U.S. Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka during a storm at high tide can't help but notice how close the water comes to the highway. Sea level rise, which scientists assure us is now inevitable, will only make things worse. The only questions are how much worse and when. If and when the ocean covers the 101 corridor between Eureka and Arcata, nobody will be able to say the issue hadn't been on Caltrans' radar. Whether the agency will have actually done anything, however, remains to be seen.Aldaron Laird of Trinity Associates says the Ocean Protection Council's 2018 sea level rise projections indicate planners should expect the waters along the U.S. Highway 101 safety corridor to rise a foot by 2030, 1.6 feet by 2040, 2.3 feet by 2050 and 3.1 feet by 2060. Some believe those projections are already outdated. The lowest point on the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 101, meanwhile, sits about 2 feet above peak high tide levels.
Hank Seemann, deputy director of environmental services for the Humboldt County Public Works Department, explained the intricate process of planning a workable project. Although the county does not own or operate the freeway — that is Caltrans' domain — it is responsible for several miles of adjacent land that are equally vulnerable to sea level rise. The two agencies will need to work closely together to find solutions that benefit both.