By Bob Berkowitz

For the last several years, there has been one issue that is the number one priority for Del Norte County. It’s no surprise to you that it’s Last Chance Grade and how we are going to get a minimum of half a billion dollars for all the studies and money for construction.

Just two years ago, the Trump Administration floated the idea of a massive infrastructure program. It would have required partnerships from private industry. The Democrats did not like that idea because they wanted all of the funding to come from the federal government, so the idea went nowhere.

Now with the takeover of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, things may be moving in a positive direction as far as infrastructure is concerned. Congressman Peter DeFazio, who represents Curry County in Oregon, is in a leadership position as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He will have a great deal to do with crafting a new infrastructure program.

Defazio’s Oregon district includes U.S. 101. He is very familiar with Last Chance Grade. Here is what he told the Triplicate in interview in 2016 concerning Last chance Grade: “We have a heck of a lot more need than funding,” said. “This is a ‘must do’ project. There are a lot of things where we can patch it up but this one... you can’t just patch it up so I would assume it would get a high priority as we move forward and I’m sure your senators would too, but there’s a long queue.”

DeFazio will now have a chance to show that is a high priority.

Another member of that same committee is our own representative, Congressman Jared Huffman. Here is what he said at a town hall meeting in Crescent City on April 11, 2017: He said he is hopeful that Congress can soon work together on a bold U.S. infrastructure package. “If we do that, I know one piece of infrastructure that’s on everyone’s mind in Del Norte and here in Crescent City,” he said, inciting a chuckle in the audience, “and that’s Last Chance Grade. I know that because I can’t come to visit you without driving over it… Since the Summer of 2012, since I became your representative in Congress, the roadway has moved 11 feet. It just keeps moving and it’s not going to stop.”

The one thing that has prevented legislation from being drafted is the fact that legislation that would authorize specific projects, known as “earmarks,” has been off the table and was not even be considered by Congress, because it was not supported by President Obama, but that may be back on the table, due to an unlikely source, none other than President Trump has said he supports bringing back earmarks. It also may have support from both parties.

Several U.S. senators said they support earmarks. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said on the March 2 PBS NewsHour, “I’ve always been supportive of making sure members of Congress have an opportunity to put funding into appropriations bills that work for their state. That’s part of our job — to fight for our state.”

In an interview on Sept. 6 with NBC News, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, a member of the House appropriations subcommittee, is a proponent of a modified version of directed spending, called it a “no-brainer.”

With support from both political parties, it’s time to do two things, first, get earmarks for special projects back on the table and second, have DeFazio, propose funds for Last Chance Grade as a specific project.

If there ever was a time for action, it is now. Both parties realize that we have tremendous needs to replace and repair our crumbling infrastructure. Let’s show these two congressman that we are behind their efforts to really make a difference in the next two years. Let them know that it’s time to walk the walk.

Bob Berkowitz is a Del Norte County supervisor.

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