Lifting restrictions on industry standard-sized semis on California 299 will not change Caltrans’ plans to widen and straighten sections of U.S. 199 and California 197 to allow for the same vehicles, project managers say.

With improvements made at Buckhorn Grade in Shasta County, industry standard-sized trucks will be able to traverse the east-west corridor from Interstate 5 in Redding to the junction of U.S. 101 in Humboldt County, Caltrans announced Thursday.

The agency cited the 1982 Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) as having set the bar for trucks sized to industry standards. Communities unable to provide access to those trucks have been at an economic disadvantage, according to Caltrans’ press release.

U.S. 101 is accessible to STAA trucks from just north of Richardson Grove in Humboldt County to the Oregon border, Caltrans District 1 Director Matt Brady said in a written statement Thursday.

Meanwhile, improvements to U.S. 199 and California 197 in Del Norte County continues to be a priority for Caltrans, according to project manager Kim Floyd.

However, Eileen Cooper, vice president with Friends of Del Norte, which has long opposed the project, questioned the need to widen the road for STAA-sized trucks when they’re able to use California 299 to access I-5.

“There are very few users locally here that would benefit,” she said, referring to goods shipped out of Del Norte County via U.S. 199. “It doesn’t affect the major industries that you think it would because most trucks are maxed out on weight.”

The 197/199 Safe STAA Access project involves widening the highways in seven locations: Two areas on California 197 near Ruby Van Deventer Park and five areas on U.S. 199 near the Patrick Creek area, at the Narrows and at Washington Curve.

In the Patrick Creek areas, the travel lanes would be 12 feet with four-foot shoulders added. In the Narrows, which is currently 20-24 feet wide with no shoulders, there would be 12 foot lanes with up to two feet of shoulders, according to Floyd. The project also includes replacing a bridge over the Middle Fork Smith River that’s been in place since 1926 and is considered functionally obsolete.

The project would also include widening the shoulders at Washington Curve.

When completed, the project would allow semis with an STAA designation — which includes a 25-foot truck towing a 53-foot trailer — to access U.S. 199 and California 197.

The planning and environmental review process for the projects on U.S. 199 and California 197 began in 2007. California received environmental clearance for the Patrick Creek portions in 2013. However the projects have been stalled as a result of two lawsuits filed in May 2014 by Friends of Del Norte and other environmental groups.

According to Caltrans, the agency has recently completed an endangered species consultation for the STAA 197/199 project.

“An interdisciplinary team from Caltrans worked with National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over the course of three years to ensure the recently released biological assessment addressed all potential impacts to coho salmon and other listed fish,” said Jason Meyer, a Caltrans associate environmental planner. “Over this time period, Caltrans produced a few (biological assessments) with NMFS requesting more information each time to ensure that we covered everything. In the end we reached the same conclusion that was reached in the previous consultation — that the project is not likely to adversely affect any listed fish species.”

Meyer added that the biological assessment was one of the most thorough Caltrans has ever produced.

Both the California 299 and the STAA 197/199 projects have been a long time coming, said Tamera Leighton, executive director of the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission. But they are not related, she said.

Leighton noted one component of the STAA 199/197 project involves replacing a bridge that’s among the oldest in the country.

“Just because you meet needs on one route doesn’t mean there aren’t different needs on a different route,” Leighton said. “Are they related? Yes they are related in that they are accommodating a trucking standard established in 1982, but it doesn’t reduce the need for standard travel on 199.”

For more information on the 197/199 Safe STAA Access project, visit www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1projects/197-199_staa.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.

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