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Coastal voices: Keep trucks off Highway 197

I sent the following letter to Kim Hayler, environmental coordinator for Caltrans:

Everything is backwards in Caltrans’ plan to modify North Bank Road (SR 197). North Bank Road is a residential area with old growth redwood trees over its full length of seven miles. Also, since there are no businesses along that road there is no reason for trucks to be on that road. So put the trucks on the road where the businesses are, U.S. 199, and where it can best serve this vital function of connecting Interstate 5 to Crescent City.

This brings to focus another backwards aspect of the plan: calling SR 197 a short cut. It is not. I can now drive south on the shortest side of the triangle and back up on the other side and add only two more miles. When the section of U.S. 199 through the park is relocated to protect the tourist attraction, both the prize redwoods lining both sides of the road and the picture-taking tourists who wander out on the road at the very popular sub park, as if there were no cars, or worse still, trucks, on it, safety would be enhanced. Thus road safety would be vastly better, the trees and tourists would be protected, the road could be a straight, high-speed, four-lane one that might even be shorter than the present trip around the triangle, thus shorter for trucks to get from U.S. 199 to Oregon. But who wants to drive a truck through Brookings? With this win/win plan, trucks would also save driving time because the speed limit could be 55 mph to Crescent City or Oregon. 

The modification will force STAA trucks from I-5 to drive seven miles on the converted SR 197 and three-plus more miles on U.S. 101 to get to Crescent City unless they continue to battle the slow speed and the twists and turns of U.S. 199 through the park with the high possibility of killing a tourist. The truckers right now take that horse and buggy U.S. 199 instead of SR 197 and when the north end of U.S. 101 is fixed up, the trucker going to Oregon also will have clear sailing at 55 mph. Oh yes, now the upper part of U.S. 101 doesn’t look suitable for the STAA but I think that Bandaids are being applied right now, I hope, to rectify that problem.

The question at this point is, why is Caltrans so adamantly pushing changing SR 197, one that is so completely out of character for a 100 percent residential area and one that is unsafe beyond belief? Smells like money.

Now with our plan of fixing U.S. 199 through the park, the trucker will love going to Crescent City. But what will he face going to Oregon? Well, he can then speed around the two short sides of the triangle at 55 mph. ignoring the long side, the mislabeled short cut. Even that is an improvement over what he can do now. For the residences on SR 197, even if the fixes started on SR 197 are not completed, it will be a far safer road without trucks on it and will still be a very pleasant and more safe one for the tourists going to the Redwood National Park, the only life blood that seems to be left for Crescent City. How is this for a win/win fix, especially when compared with the Caltrans 197/199 plan? 

There is yet another problem with putting trucks on SR 197. Touring bicyclists constantly ride on SR 197 to get to the park. This situation would be so dangerous with the change in SR 197 that bicyclists should not be allowed on it, as with freeways. A mix of big trucks and bicyclists on SR 197 is even worse than cars and trucks on the same road!

If anyone wishes to discuss this issue with me, call 707-458-3602.

Elmer Zuehlke is a Gasquet resident.

 

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