The California Transportation Commission approved $5 million for the Last Chance Grade project Wednesday, enabling Caltrans to begin geotechnical studies on potential alignments around the slide-prone area of U.S. 101.

Caltrans has identified seven alternatives regarding a route over Last Chance Grade, including keeping the existing highway as-is. The agency will begin to develop a plan for where that geotechnical data will be collected, said Caltrans spokesman Myles Cochrane.

“What we’re going to be doing is developing that plan and coordinating with environmental groups and other stakeholders to permit analysis of those drilling locations for geotechnical data,” Cochrane said. “We’ll be working with them to plan out where we should drill and collect geotechnical data and once that’s all permitted, then we’ll start (drilling) with those six proposed alternatives.”

Cochrane said the studies will begin at the southern segment of the Last Chance Grade realignments.

“Like Matt (Brady) said, this is a start,” Cochrane said, referring to the Caltrans District 1 Director. “It’s estimated that we need about $52 million for all of the studies for the environmental phase.”

In a written statement, Brady on Wednesday said the $5 million is “positive movement towards developing a project that meets everyone’s needs.”

The geotechnical studies are the beginning of the environmental review phase of the realignment of Last Chance Grade, Cochrane said. The environmental review part of the project is expected to begin in the summer of 2018 through 2026.

Cochrane said Caltrans is still working with the Federal Highway Administration to obtain more funding for the necessary studies.

Obtaining the funds to “kick off” the geotechnical and environmental analysis phase of a Last Chance Grade bypass was a “team effort” on the part of Congressman Jared Huffman, Assemblyman Jim Wood and State Sen. Mike McGuire.

Huffman, McGuire and Wood penned a letter to the California Transportation Commission supporting Caltrans’ request for funding. Local governments, tribes, environmental groups, landowners, businesses and transportation representatives also sent letters of support to the California Transportation Commission supporting the $5 million allocation for beginning environmental studies related to Last Chance Grade, according to a press release from Huffman’s office.

For more information about the Last Chance Grade project, visit www.lastchancegrade.com.

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