By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Four options for making Hwy. 199 safer at the narrows will be presented by Caltrans officials Thursday.

In a meeting open to the public at 4:30 p.m., Thursday in the Flynn Center, Caltrans will present displays of four different approaches to widening that stretch of road.

The narrows is the most difficult section to navigate and get through - even for regular pick-up trucks, said Susan Morrison, director of the DNTC.

Options for the widening start with building a cantilever on the Smith River side of the road, a supported ledge over the canyon. Another way is to cut into the rock side of the road. The third option is to carve a tunnel into the mountain, re-routing the road entirely. And the fourth option suggests pin-pointing the sharpest curves and doing spot fixes.

Caltrans has estimated the costs of the four options to range from $12 million to $105 million. Even before decisions can be made, money will be spent on in-depth environmental impact studies and core sampling to determine ground stability.

The main issue behind this project is safety, Morrison said. And the trick that trucks have to pull is staying between the yellow and the white lines.

The narrows is an area just half a mile north of Patrick Creek. It has been a focus of contention between travelers, industrial truckers, environmentalists and the Del Norte Transportation Commission (DNTC) for years.

The road is blamed for several accidents and deaths and rock and mud slides are common during winter months.

So, the option that is chosen will have the least environmental impact, while making the road as safe as possible, Morrison said.

The project is still in the preliminary stages, even though public meetings about it have gone on for two years.

This is not the beginning and its not anywhere near the end, said Morrison.

Even if all the studies and decisions were made, theres still the issue of money and how it will be funded, she said.

Among interested parties planning to attend the meeting are the Friends of Del Norte, an environmental watch-dog group, and Snoozie Shavings, a wood products company running transporting trucks on Hwy 199.

Were looking at how the project will be done, not just what the project is, said Eileen Cooper of Friends of Del Norte.

We want to know how effective these techniques (of widening the road and preventing slides) will be, she said.

Cooper also voiced concern over debris and construction materials being pushed down into the water-shed area of the Smith River.

But if making the road safer will prevent chemical spills, were all for it. The water quality of the Smith River is our main concern. she said.