U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman questioned U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during a hearing last week, highlighting the precarious nature of Last Chance Grade on U.S. Highway 101 just south of Crescent City.
Huffman invited Buttigieg to visit the North Coast to see “one of the most beautiful places in the world” while noting “I would love to show you a lot of aging and failing infrastructure, including highways, roads and bridges.”
“I believe that if you’re endlessly fixing a section of highway that keeps failing you shouldn’t use expensive Band-Aids forever. … The poster child for this problem is on a rugged stretch of coastline in my district just south of Crescent City where Highway 101 clings sometimes to a very steep, crumbling cliff high above the ocean,” Huffman told Buttigieg. “It’s known as Last Chance Grade, and because the hillside is constantly sliding, the road is often closed for weeks or months at a time while Caltrans figures out another way to temporarily keep it from falling into the ocean. This is our main north-south transportation corridor … and we know that a massive failure that would cost the region $130 million annually, in addition to whatever lives would be lost, is just a matter of time.”
Last Chance Grade is a three-mile section of Highway 101 that has been sliding for decades. In recent weeks, the area has seen a revolving door of openings and closings amid landslides that completely covered the roadway. Three workers were injured in the middle of March after a tree fell.
For years, Caltrans has been working on an alternative route around Last Chance Grade. According to LastChanceGrade.com, that should be done by 2039. Huffman pressed Buttigieg for federal funding to support that work.
“We’re going to need a significant federal investment to get it done,” Huffman said. “So, Secretary Buttigieg, can you discuss what the administration wants to do for projects like Last Chance Grade where critical infrastructure keeps failing and really needs to be rerouted and replaced?”
Buttigieg did not directly answer the question but urged moving forward with resilient infrastructure.
“We recognize that the conditions are shifting. Sometimes literally the ground is shifting beneath the infrastructure that we are contemplating, and sometimes the right answer will change if not within the lifetime of the authorization, certainly within the lifetime of the project,” the transportation secretary said. “Shame on us if we’re building roads or bridges or anything else that’s expected to last into the 2070s without thinking about how that’s going to look different than the 1970s. I think that forward-looking approach to resiliency needs to be woven into every part of the way we approach our infrastructure spending.”