I must add my voice to the chorus of locals who understand that the proposed work for Highways 199 and 197 in Del Norte County will not solve current road problems but will worsen already dangerous driving conditions if the work is completed and STAA-sized trucks are permitted to use both roadways.
I live off Highway 197 in Hiouchi and use the road virtually every day either heading north or south. I also use Highway 199 regularly, not just to come into town from home, but also to visit friends in Gasquet, or to travel further north into the mountains or all the way into Oregon.
I have studied the proposed plans for both roads and I know that, even though the work is needed, it will not make the roads compliant with STAA standards nor significantly safer. There are numerous sections on both roads which are more dangerous and in need of widening and straightening. Even if the proposed work is completed, mandated four-foot minimum shoulder widths will still not be created at too many spots on both roads, neither on the upslope mountain side nor on the downslope river side.
Simply put, the idea to use STAA funds just because they are
available while not making the roads STAA compliant and safe for
oversized trucks is the kind of bureaucratic decision-making which
leaves many of us incredulous. I call it crazy.
There are several spots on 199, just north of the turn to Jed Smith
State Park at Douglas Park Dr. and further north in a number of sections
of the Middle Gorge and Upper Gorge, where the road is visibly sinking
despite frequent patching. Permitting even heavier trucks to use this
road will only hasten the constant movement toward the river.
None of these failing areas are addressed in the current plans.
While much of Highway 197 is not as dangerous as Highway 199, the
proposed changes here will not make the road any safer either. STAA
trucks will still need an exemption to use the road because, once again,
minimum shoulder widths will not be established and several tight
curves will not be eliminated.
Locals using 197 daily can tell you how many near accidents they've
had with small trucks and passenger cars driving too fast and crossing
the centerline on the four-mile stretch of road just north of the
Country Club all the way to the 101 junction by the Dr. Fine Bridge.
STAA trucks wanting to reach Crescent City from 199 will be forced
onto 197 because they cannot navigate the curves on the section of 199
from Walker Road to the Jed Smith park entrance near the 199-101
In short, the plan to do inadequate work on both roads and then to
permit STAA trucks to use them is a danger to every motorist using
either road and a major potential health hazard to the Smith River, its
aquatic life and to those residents who draw their water from the river.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those residents who
uses Smith River water).
Yes, both roads need to be fixed but they will never be STAA
compliant. The lawsuits will continue and the protests will be ramped up
as needed; no amount of bureaucratic doublespeak will be able to
convince us that this plan is anything but a disaster waiting to happen.
And, speaking of disasters waiting to happen, the constant slipping
of Highway 101 at Last Chance Grade is not the only spot falling toward
the Pacific Ocean on Highway 101. There are at least a half dozen spots
between the beginning of the hill climb just south of Crescent City and
the descent to Wilson Creek north of Klamath where the road is
constantly sinking. Not just the major sinkholes which have already
closed off parts of the right lane on the southbound side, but numerous
other spots where the road is cracking and dipping.
Yes, this movement toward the ocean is accelerating at such a rapid
pace that it has become visible to the naked eye without the aid of
We are already in an emergency situation. Every other item under
discussion for the 20-year master transportation plan, while important,
is insignificant compared to a man-made disaster affecting the river or
the collapse of 101. Not to mention any loss of life.
No matter what improvements are made, Highway 199 must remain a
national scenic highway not suitable for use by STAA trucks. Plans to
reroute 101 between Crescent City and Klamath must be pushed to the head
of the line. This must become a top priority for Caltrans.
All our elected officials and everyone in the bureaucracy must be held accountable. The clock is ticking.
Willie Gilbert is a resident of Hiouchi.