By Willie Gilbert

As always, I read Chuck Blackburn’s “Yes We Can” column in the Nov. 29 Triplicate with great interest. I appreciate his youthful energy and determination but I think it’s important to clarify two of the issues Chuck raised.

While I totally support his and others’ efforts to advance a permanent solution to the impending collapse of Last Chance Grade, I want to remind everyone that Last Chance Grade is not the only section of U.S. 101 which is collapsing, although it is the most severe.

There are a half dozen sections between Crescent City and Wilson Creek which are in constant need of repair. Each of these areas require monitored lane closings, which usually run between five and 15 minutes depending on traffic and extra work stoppages. And, the repairs to every one of these areas are temporary, requiring more patch jobs along with futile efforts to shore up the downhill sides of the road.

Any permanent solution to Last Chance Grade must include the rerouting of U.S. 101 from where the road rises south of Enderts Beach Road to the most acceptable tie-in near Wilson Creek. All meetings with Caltrans, our elected officials and the U.S. Department of Transportation must stress this point: the problem is a 12-mile problem which must be fixed in its entirety, not a quarter-mile problem confined to Last Chance Grade.

I also object to Chuck’s characterization of the lawsuits filed against Caltrans as frivolous. The lawsuits were not filed to keep Caltrans from making safety improvements on U.S. 199 and California Highway 197 (North Bank Road). In short, they were filed to keep oversized trucks from travelling on both roads. Caltrans is trying to use federal dollars for a project that, upon its completion, still wouldn’t meet the safety standards needed by the larger trucks, requiring a waiver to use both roads which Caltrans will grant.

The proposed safety improvements are inadequate for the present day traffic and completely overlook numerous sections of both roads which are just as dangerous, if not more so. Too many vehicles already wind up in the river or on its banks or are involved in multi-vehicle crashes, which result in injuries or fatalities.

And let’s not forget all the wildlife dependent upon the river for survival nor the tourism generated by the Smith River. The river, in short, is the lifeblood of our community and the northern part of the county.

I live off North Bank Road and use U.S. 199 and California 197 virtually every day. If the county had a nickel for every vehicle crossing the centerline or drifting onto one of the too narrow shoulders on either road — and I’m talking about cars as well as regular-sized tractor-trailers — we would be rolling in dough.

There is federal money available for improving both roads which would not require Caltrans to issue waivers for STAA trucks. Caltrans is notorious for playing fast and loose with environmental and safety impact studies and has been tied up in court for years over the same issue in Humboldt County.

Wanting to protect all our neighbors and visitors along with the Smith River and all that it supports is hardly what I would call frivolous. I call it sensible.

Willie Gilbert lives in Hiouchi.

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