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Walters: The runaround on coastal bypass debates

  • MANNY CRISOSTOMO / Sacramento Bee
    A truck carrying a load of lumber drives on a narrow stretch of Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park.

Over the past six decades — mile by expensive mile — California’s transportation department has upgraded Highway 101 on the scenic North Coast from a narrow, twisting, two-lane road into a modern four-lane expressway.

Well, not quite.

There are still a couple of bottlenecks in Highway 101’s 265 miles of pavement between San Francisco and Eureka — not to mention a big one in Eureka itself, where logging trucks still rumble through its business district.

One choke point is in Willits, halfway between San Francisco and Eureka, and another is farther north in Richardson Grove State Park, home to one of the state’s most magnificent stands of old-growth redwood trees.

Willits’ residents have tolerated the often dense, noisy and noxious auto, truck and recreational vehicle traffic on its main drag for decades while the state Department of Transportation studied alternatives for a 6-mile-long bypass.

It finally settled on a route, only to face years of litigation from environmental groups, which raised specious arguments against the project — favoring, one supposes, continuing to choke Willits streets over some minor, even theoretical, damage to small patches of wetlands.

Finally, after much reworking of the project, it cleared all of the environmental and legal hurdles and construction is now underway.

The environmental objections to the Willits bypass never made much sense.

But the groups that opposed it are on much firmer ground in opposing Caltrans’ plans for Richardson Grove’s bottleneck.

The coalition has filed its third lawsuit against Caltrans’ project to widen the narrow, 1915-vintage stretch of Highway 101 that snakes through the immense trees and make it suitable for large trucks meeting a new federal standard.

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