Laura Jo Welter, The Triplicate

A pair of high-profile highway projects dominated the conversation at a transportation planning meeting Monday, demonstrating the need for another such meeting, one official said.

Meanwhile some members of the public felt their concerns weren't being heard.

"We want people to have a broader understanding about what we're trying to do here, not just the sort of single-focused discussion we had. We have a lot of concerns in our community and a lot of other things to do," said Tamera Leighton, executive director of the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission. "We'll do it all again; we'll have another meeting, and we'll do it differently."

The packed house had lots to say about Last Chance Grade and the pending Highway 199/197 Safe STAA Access project - neither of which, Leighton said, are pertinent to the 2016 Regional Transportation Plan.

The plan, updated every five years, looks at the next two decades, rolling all the high priority transportation projects belonging to various government agencies into one document. The meeting was intended to elicit input from the public on the plan.

Building an alternate route around Last Chance Grade, a slide-prone section of U.S. 101 between Klamath and Crescent City that's drooping steadily toward the sea, although important, won't be put in the five-year plan because it won't be funded in that time, said Leighton.

That's in contrast to the 199/197 Caltrans project, which won't be included because it's already funded and in the construction phase, she said.

Even so, a court-ordered injunction has had the project stalled since environmental groups brought a lawsuit against Caltrans and the National Marine Fisheries Service, alleging they failed to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

The agencies agreed to do another environmental assessment of the project as a part of a settlement reached in July 2014. Progress won't be made widening and straightening sections of the highways to allow access to longer trucks until that's complete and approved.

"I was very disappointed that we couldn't talk about 199 - that's what a lot of people were there to do, but they kept insisting up there that it's under construction and the comment would not be included, so stop talking about it," said Natalynne DeLapp, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center in Arcata.

DeLapp said, "as a member of the public and as a person who works for an advocacy group," that it's all too often that projects only catch the public's eye once they are "signed, sealed and delivered," and it's too late to make any comment.

The letter EPIC submitted Monday night as its formal comment on the Regional Transportation Plan touched on many of the things said by opponents of the project all along: namely, that widening and straightening the highways to allow access to larger trucks will not make the already windy and precarious road any safer, and puts the pristine Smith River at greater risk of spills.

"Del Norte County should emphasize walkability of the community, ensuring access (if Last Chance Grade slips, no one from the south will be able to get to Del Norte County), fixing known safety concerns, re-striping roadways, filling pot-holes and expanding the airport. Encouraging more giant trucks that service 'Any-Town America' stores and make the roadways less safe is not what is going to usher Del Norte County into a 21st Century destination community," the letter reads.

County resident Janet Gilbert attended the meeting to talk about the 199/197 project, as well.

"What I feel about the project is safety first," she said Friday. "It's good to realign the elder bridge, but all the safety is negated by allowing for larger trucks. ... What happens when the airport is fogged in and emergency vehicles have to drive people up the 199 to get them to the Rogue Regional Medical Center?"

City Council Member Kathryn Murray said she understood concerns about longer trucks on 199 and the slow process of rerouting Last Chance Grade, but, in regards to the grade, she hoped to find a means to better inform the public on what is being done about it.

"Some people had their own agenda, but the general lack of understanding of what is being planned and being done was very apparent," said Del Norte County Supervisor David Finigan.

Eventually, a cross walk at U.S. 101 near the Crescent City Harbor, a gateway into town, and a revamped Front Street, did get suggested.

A second meeting will provide the public lists of potential high priority projects, and they'll be staffed by a person from the corresponding agency to provide people with a bit more direction, said Leighton.

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