For decades, the residents of Del Norte and Humboldt Counties have been in search of a permanent fix for Highway 101's Last Chance Grade as it continues to slide into the Pacific.
The Last Chance Grade is the lifeblood of Del Norte County’s economy and a catastrophic failure would have a $1-1.5 billion negative impact on the regional economy.
Over the last 24 months, Sen. Mike McGuire says progress has been made. More funding was advanced compared to any other time in history through the State of California’s $10 million investment in the geotechnical studies and the launch of the environmental study, which will narrow down all the inland route options to one preferred option, according to McGuire.
On Thursday, a partnership including Rep. Jared Huffman, Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood announced that Caltrans will request the final $40 million needed to complete the overall Last Chance Grade environmental study.
Caltrans plans for the request to be on the California Transportation Commission's March agenda. The $40 million would cover the costs for all of the necessary environmental work, McGuire said.
“This final $40 million needed for the environmental study puts an end to the band-aid approach to fixing the Last Chance Grade,” said McGuire. “Everyone has been working together on a permanent fix and we finally have the momentum to get this job done. We have been grateful to partner with Assemblymember Wood, Congressman Huffman, the Del Norte Board of Supervisors, Crescent City Council and Caltrans on this critical project. While this is a day to celebrate, we know the real work is still ahead.”
Over the past decade, more than $55 million has been spent on temporary fixes to protect the Last Chance Grade right of way. If approved, the $40 million request from Caltrans to the California Transportation Commission will secure all the necessary funds for the environmental impact report needed to design a long-term fix for the Last Chance Grade.
“In the past couple of years, thanks to our work together, Last Chance Grade has finally begun receiving the attention it needs,” said Huffman, a member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which just held a hearing on the need and urgency for action on transportation infrastructure needs. “I convened the Last Chance Grade Stakeholders Group to explore permanent solutions to this serious economic and safety risk, and that group needs—and the broader community deserves—the information that will be gathered through this environmental impact report to determine how best to route the highway to provide safe transportation, while protecting the precious natural resources of beautiful Del Norte County.”
“Constructing a lasting and permanent fix for the Last Chance Grade is a massive project,” said Wood. “Creating an alternative route that will endure decades of use and support the local economy while protecting our beautiful coastal environment is the challenge. The funding for this phase of the project is critical to that end, and I want to acknowledge the patience of the community and thank them for understanding the importance of the process in meeting our long-term goal.”
Significant geotechnical work is currently underway on the Last Chance Grade and the funding for the final environmental studies will bring the project to its next phase, according to McGuire.
While there are numerous safety procedures in place, McGuire says there is no viable alternative route in the event of a complete failure of the roadway due to a landslide. Without a detour, he says complete failure would isolate Del Norte County from the North Coast of California. Residents could be cut off from medical care, schools and other important services and the economic impacts could be devastating.