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Last Chance Grade Project moves forward with phase 2, backed by $50 million


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On Wednesday, Nov. 6, North Coast lawmakers laid out the next steps for the Last Chance Grade project during a community meeting at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds in Crescent City.

The LCG project is a collaborative effort to find a permanent solution to the instability and roadway failure on a 3-mile segment of Highway 101 in Del Norte County, extending from Wilson Creek to 9 miles south of Crescent City. In order to be successful, the LCG project requires close coordination and collaboration among local, regional and state partners.

North Coast Sen. Mike McGuire, Rep. Jared Huffman, and Ass. Jim Wood Wednesday night said the project has reached a huge stepping stone.

"Never before in history have we have $50-million dollars in the bank to be able to move the environmental and engineering studies forward. This is a major step in the right direction," Sen. McGuire said.

"We're talking about how we're actively spending $50-million dollars to take us down the road towards an alternate route and the design and implementation of the final fix for last chance grade," Rep. Huffman said.

"I think the biggest part of this whole process is the $50-million dollars that's going to the environmental documents and the study that is the real jump start to this project," Assemblymember Wood said.

The $50 million dollars will be used to fund the complete Project Approval and Environmental Document (PA&ED) phase. So far, $3.5-million has been spent on the environmental and geotech studies.

The environmental document process initially began in 2018 and is estimated to last until 2026. The document includes:

  • Ground surveys
  • Botanical studies (2 years)
  • Geo-technical studies
  • Wetland delineations
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Assessment and Biological Opinion
  • National Marine Fishers Service (NMFS) Biological Assessment and Biological Opinion
  • Traffic Studies
  • Other studies and analysis
  • CEQA/NEPA Public Workshops and Comment period

"We feel we have all the money we need to get through this process. We aren't funded for design which could cost $30-million, we aren't funded for right of way which would include the mitigation costs, and we aren't funded for construction which could cost anywhere between, our current estimate is $300-million to $1-billion depending on the alternative we select," Caltrans LCG Project Manager Jaime Matteoli said.

But Matteoli said major unknowns will follow including geology, environmental sensitives, and permit requirements. Caltrans will have to apply for permits and those permits will dictate how they can do the job, according to Matteoli. For example, Matteoli said, "Can we go build all year long or can we only build three months of the year? Can we build six months of the year, ten months of the year?"

The biggest unknown is which of the several alternatives Caltrans chooses to move forward with.

Here are a few key points about the alternatives:

  • Construction capital costs range from roughly $295-million to $1.1-billion.
  • Each alignment has at least some impacts to old growth redwood trees, cultural resources and/or protected species.
  • All build alternatives are located within a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Click here to see the list of alternatives.

During the meeting, Matteoli said, "My prediction it's none of the ones we already thought of." But, it is still too early to tell.

A full one-year closure of Last Chance Grade would cost the region hundreds of millions of dollars, including $236-million in travel costs, $417-million in foregone trips, $38-hundred jobs lost, and $456-million in reduced business output, according to a 2018 regional economic study.

An emergency closure of the current highway would require a 6-hour drive detour between Eureka (Humboldt County) and Crescent City. Since 1997, Caltrans has spent $85-million to maintain the existing alignment and may need to spend up to $35-million more fore existing goods, according to Caltrans.

The design and permitting phase will begin in 2026 and can last anywhere to 2031. The construction phase would not begin until 2031, according to Caltrans.

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To find out more about the LCG project click here and to watch the full meeting click here.

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