Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

After replacing Malcomb Dougherty as director of Caltrans this year, new Director Lauri Berman visited Crescent City Thursday and was given a tour of Last Chance Grade.

Berman, along with county, state, federal and Caltrans officials, got a close look at construction taking place on the grade, including the area of mile marker 14.4, which has been closed to just one lane since a significant portion of the roadway’s edge slid away in March 2017.

“I was glad to see Last Chance Grade firsthand and fully understand the technical issues as well as the community issues,” said Berman, after the tour. “I appreciated the time everyone took to meet with me and explain how this is impacting their ability to move people and goods along 101, especially our partner agencies and local representatives. I look forward to further discussion as we work towards a long term solution. This is a high priority for Caltrans.”

Berman was appointed in February by Gov. Jerry Brown.

She has been with Caltrans for 34 years and most recently has served as the acting chief deputy director.

Frisbie said since Berman is from Southern California, she has been making a point of visiting other Caltrans districts.

“This was her first official trip to District 1,” Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said, noting Berman visited various locations over Last Chance Grade. He said representatives from state parks, federal parks, state Sen. Mike McGuire’s office, and the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission joined the tour.

Supervisor Lori Cowan said she invited Berman to Del Norte County and t=she felt it was important to have her here.

“Seeing Last Chance Grade on paper is just not quite the same as seen it in person, which is something she agreed with me on when she was here Wednesday,” Cowan said in an email Friday. “Having Paul Schneider from federal highways administration, a representative from Senator McGuire’s office also showed her how all of the agencies are working together to get this project done.”

Supervisor Chair Chris Howard called the visit “huge,” saying that Last Chance Grade was a high priority for former Caltrans Director Malcom Dougherty.

“With her as the new director, we wanted her to say the same thing,” Howard said Friday. “We wanted it to be on the top of her mind when it comes to funding and resources.” He said he’s sure Berman walked away from the visit convinced Last Chance Grade is a problem that Caltrans needs to stay on top of.

“It’s always good to have people to talk to in Sacramento,” Howard said, “and to have her get her feet on the ground here and see that first hand, nothing replaces that.”

Cowan noted geotechnical studies paid for with a grant awarded last May will be complete by October. That will narrow the list of six alternative routes down to three or four, she said.

Cowan said a recent allocation of $10 million in state money toward realignment studies is unprecedented, as the department usually secures funding before embarking on studies.

“This is huge progress that shouldn’t be ignored,” she said.