Coastal Commission Calls for Local Hearing on 101 Interchange at Indianola Cutoff

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Below: One of three billboards on tidal wetlands adjacent to U.S. 101 and the crumbling railroad dike near Indianola Cutoff, where CalTrans plans to build an interchange.
Photo: Beth Frink.

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.

In process for over fifteen years, the project would include an interchange at Indianola Cutoff, a left-turn signal at Airport Road, and closure of all other median crossings between Arcata and Eureka. The project would significantly alter the character of the major route travelled between the two largest cities in the County, increasing the current speed limit of 50 mph that was enacted in 2002 for safety reasons.

The last time the public had a chance to weigh in on this project was in 2013, when the Coastal Commission met in Eureka before a packed Wharfinger Building. After hours of public testimony, the Commission directed CalTrans to analyze sea level rise and redesign the project accordingly; plan for the Bay Trail; remove all of the billboards within the safety corridor; and develop a wetland mitigation plan. These conditions must be met prior to CalTrans’ permit application, although some are clearly still in process.

Humboldt Baykeeper and the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities submitted a joint letter asking for the delay, which will allow time to review the project plans once they are finalized. Thanks to Jennifer Savage of Surfrider Foundation, who spoke on our behalf at the hearing in Oxnard, the Coastal Commission recognized the need for a local hearing. Although several draft documents are available on CalTrans’ webpage for the project, the plan has not yet been finalized.

A major concern is the plan’s (lack of) adaptation for sea level rise, which is projected to flood the highway regularly by 2040 unless the corridor is elevated. Although the Coastal Commission required a sea level rise analysis in 2013, CalTrans has not made any changes to the project, saying that this is a future planning issue separate from the project. The entire project area also lies within the tsunami run-up zone and the 100-year flood zone, posing potential hazards to travelers.

Other concerns include traffic in Manila and Bayside during construction, as well as bike/pedestrian access at the Bayside Cutoff and between the Bay Trail and the KOA Campground, which is frequented by touring cyclists. This route is designated as the Pacific Coast Bikeway, so planning for safe bike access during construction will also be important.


Billboard Removal

Despite the 2013 condition that the billboards be removed, CalTrans revealed its plan in April to allow twelve billboards to remain along the 101 Corridor, including three that were built within Humboldt Bay wetlands. Humboldt Baykeeper applauds CalTrans’ removal of ten billboards from public lands since 2013, but will continue to insist on removal of the remaining billboards, particularly these three, since they are in submerged wetlands that are designated public trust lands by the State.


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