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Officials fume over road issue

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Years of simmering frustration about the transportation restrictions on two major Del Norte County roads reached the boiling point Thursday.

Members of the Local Transportation Commission grilled regional Department of Transportation representative Mark Suchanek for nearly an hour, pressing him for details on why the roads remain highly restricted to large trucks.

If he'd been a steak, he would have been well done.

Commission members were obviously annoyed by Suchanek's explanations of why U.S. Hwy. 199 remains classified by Caltrans as "brown" status.

Hwy. 199's designation changed in 1999 and again in 2000. It is currently listed as "Modified Brown Route." Hwy. 197 is listed as a "Red Route."

The difference between the two probably best defines politicians' and business peoples' frustration.

"We've asked for improvements for so many years, and this affects commerce," said Leslie McNamer, county board supervisor and commission member. "Home Depot's trucks are getting turned away; just how do we invite major businesses here?"

McNamer referred to areas where truck drivers must re-load their cargo from 70- to 45-foot trailers to bring it in to Del Norte County businesses.

Suchanek told the group that Oregon's recent improvements to U.S. Hwy. 101 make it the "preferred" route for truckers, edging out U.S. Hwy. 199, a "Modified Brown Route." State Hwy. 197, is classified as a "Red Route."

The state of Oregon bowed to two years of public pressure and fixed a problem area that existed in the Humbug Mountain area between Gold Beach and Brookings. Its work helped to nudge U.S. Hwy. 101 into its "preferred" status.

"This portal is just as important to Northern California as Bay Area overcrowding and San Diego bridges are," said Supervisor David Finigan. "This group wants some of the (state) bond money.

Oregon's Department of Transportation crews have also undertaken a number of projects along U.S. Hwy. 199 north of the state line. Ending at the border, however, the California side of the highway suffers by comparison.

Several projects are either underway or are planned on the two highways.

Caltrans' Cheryl S. Willis said they are being timed in a "logical sequence" so their completion will dovetail with a project at "The Narrows" area of Hwy. 199 that should be completed by 2009.

Willis is Deputy District Director for Planning and Local Assistance, working out of Caltrans' Eureka office.

"We understand and acknowledge that 199 is an important route to the community," she said. "We have constraints on our funding and are trying to effect a strategy on how to fix them."

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