Our View: Finally, some movement on Hwy. 199

May 23, 2007 11:00 pm

The need to improve U.S. Hwy. 199 was highlighted yet again this week with Wal-Mart's announcement that it wants to expand its store into a supercenter. The business – along with many others already in Crescent City or that have thought about coming here – needs a road to a freeway that can accommodate long trucks. Hwy. 199 is that road.

Given that, it's good to see that the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission reversed an earlier decision and now will spend $1 million on a study about the environmental impact of eliminating Hwy. 199's chokepoints. The study is a legal necessity before any major construction work can be approved. Last month, the commission had decided not to fund the study.

Commissioners originally didn't back the study because of a continuing conflict with Caltrans. Certainly commissioners have good reason to be frustrated with Caltrans. An aspirin ought to be issued to any community member asked to work with the massive bureaucracy that is often more concerned with the powerful political needs of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

But saying "no" to the environmental study as a pushback against Caltrans doesn't get Hwy. 199 any closer to being improved. And the needs for accomplishing that are well-known to commissioners:

•Larger trucks are a necessity for a number of businesses that might otherwise come here.

•Owners of larger RVs remain an untapped market for our tourism industry. Other travelers often won't drive here because of the difficult road.

•Local residents need a safer highway to reach medical facilities in Grants Pass. Ore., and Medford, Ore.

Every year that we wait to improve Hwy. 199 is one more year that we do without additional tourists' dollars, jobs and sales tax revenue from new or expanded businesses, and longer travel times to healthcare services not offered on the Northcoast. Every year we wait only drives up the cost of the environmental study and ultimately Hwy. 199's reconstruction.

That the study's money could instead be spent on local road projects often is dangled as a caveat. Of course there are local roads that need improvement. But getting Hwy. 199 fixed will put us in a financial position to later improve those roads. Spend the money only on local roads, however, and we're still left with a Hwy. 199 that doesn't adequately support our economic and health needs.