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In Focus: Proposed changes would improve Hwy. 101 safety

 (Concept photos courtesy of Caltrans).
(Concept photos courtesy of Caltrans).

By Thea Skinner

Triplicate staff writer

The dangerous Last Chance landslide section of U.S. Hwy. 101 will get a new face in coming years.

Last Chance Grade, south of Crescent City, is the area of roadway open to a view of the ocean on Hwy. 101.

Since 1987, the 0.8 mile-stretch north of Wilson Creek Bridge has been a topic of discussion amongst environmental planners, landscape architects and others.

In 2002, experts in geology and other fields brainstormed to create the new $11 million project.

The improvements, called U.S. 101 Last Chance Grade Road Stabilization Project, addresses landslides that have been a concern for public safety.

Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson understands the importance of improving the Last Chance Grade slide area.

"We have had some accidents and fatalities," Wilson said. "Any improvements on the road will help avoid these things.

"It has been very problematic and has been shut down to a one lane road passage several times."

Millions of dollars already have gone into the Last Chance roadway.

"It has been problematic with slides and erosion," Wilson said. "Any improvements will create safer traffic flow."

The proposed improvements include constructing six retaining walls in the areas that did not have them previously. The walls will stabilize the hillside, according to the draft environmental document.

The six proposed retaining walls will be made out of flexible material that will move with the earth.

The new construction will have safety features including reflectors on the guardrails. Sight distance also will be improved with the addition of 4-foot shoulders.

Last Chance Grade historically was designed by an architect to mirror the landscape of the roadway and flow with the Redwoods coastline.

A Caltrans Project Development Team presented the draft environmental document at a public meeting Tuesday in Klamath. The study indicates that the new project will have no significant effect on the environment.

Kevin Church, project manager for Caltrans, Del Norte County, said that Caltrans made exceptions to its standards to maintain the original architect's design.

Previous studies coordinated with California State Parks showed that construction would have a negative impact on the environment.

"Last week we did not find anything," said Scott Williams, Caltrans environmental planner.

Caltrans is conducting a second check on the biota and plants this week, he said.

One Yurok tribal member at the meeting asked what process was in place if Caltrans were to find significant cultural artifacts.

The original excavation dug so far down that any artifacts in the area were probably recovered already, Church said.

Dave Parish, chief of police for the Yurok Department of Public Safety said that the community will soon see more law enforcement involved in areas around Last Chance.

"We will work with the California Highway Patrol," he said of the officers securing the highway. "At the Klamath Basin we have a straight roadway. It definitely will effect us."

Internal Caltrans teams such as a geotechnical team are drilling in the area to determine the wall height and depth, Church said.

"A structural group will make the assessment as to what the depths of the wall will be," he said. "We are in the middle of the roadway design and we have started the structural design."

The project has been approved through the Caltrans head office, but not entirely designed.

"The project is studied in detail through an environmental document along with the cost estimate," Church said.

Public comments will be incorporated into the final environmental document, he said.

One contractor is likely to construct the six retaining walls of the project while another dirt and painting contractor will construct another portion, he said.

"Anyone with a California contracting license can bid on the project," said Church.

Roger Goddard, associate landscape architect for the North Coast Redwoods District of California State Parks has been involved in approving the draft environmental document.

"In this case the issue had to do with how we would respond to the guard rails constructed," Goddard said. "Our response was that as long as it was within the Cushion Creek section of the highway it would be fine."

"We seem to be in good concurrence with what Caltrans is doing. It is an innocuous project, but an important link to Crescent City."

RReach Thea Skinner at .

Last Chance Construction Timeline

•Nov. 1, 2007 – Conclusion of environmental process

•May 1, 2008 – Design Finalized

•August 1, 2008 – Bid Package Ready

•September 1, 2008 – Contract Advertised for Bid

•December 1, 2008 – Award project to Lowest Bidder

•April 1, 2011 – Construction complete

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