Caltrans waste and boondoggle at Willits

There are many reasons why the Caltrans bypass around Willits – as designed – is bad news, but here’s the most compelling quick demonstration of why it’s a huge waste of taxpayer money:
Check out this Caltrans website 1 mile north of Willits
It shows an empty or almost empty highway almost all of the time. This traffic (well, some of it, some of the through traffic will stop in town for gas or lunch) is the traffic Caltrans wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to “relieve.”
Willits has a traffic problem, certainly, but this bypass won’t fix it. First, because most of the traffic is local. Caltrans’ own numbers show only 70 to 80 percent of the traffic will use the bypass, and those numbers are from an old traffic study (more recent studies show traffic reduced by 20 percent) and optimistic, because when that study was done, Caltrans expected to build a mid-town Highway 20/Highway 101 interchange.
Due to the lack of a mid-town interchange, with the bypass entrance and exit quite far north and south of town, few locals will find it worthwhile to use it. And, also, with no Highway 20 interchange, all the traffic heading to the Mendocino Coast will still travel right down the existing 101, through the worst bottleneck in town, south of the Highway 20 exit. (although to urban drivers, the backup would hardly be noticeable most of the time, it does get bad sometimes)
Restriping that bottleneck, Caltrans’ estimate: $100,000, would do more to fix the traffic problem in Willits than the bypass will do.
And that’s not to mention “relocating” salmon during construction –  the Ryan Creek/Outlet Creek/Eel River Coho salmon run is the longest in California – or the effect of installing thousands (reportedly 55,000) “wick drains” to “dewater” the Little Lake Valley, which the Army Corps had to point out to Caltrans planners in Sacramento a few years ago, floods every winter, thus its name. The CA Farm Bureau has joined the lawsuit filed by environmentalists against the bypass project, due to concern about setting a precedent for inadequate review of economic and environmental impacts from loss of farmland.
Also not to mention safety: When locals were pressing for a 2-lane alternative (we’d like to see a “truck route” through town along Railroad Avenue / the old railroad tracks), Caltrans said a 2 lane alternative without a median barrier would be a “disaster” due to risk of accidents, lack of access for emergency vehicles, and because traffic would move at the speed of the slowest vehicle. Caltrans said a 2 lane alternative would require a whole new EIR/EIS.
And yet, now, due to lack of funding, that’s exactly what Caltrans is proposing to do: except their 6-mile two-lane with no median barrier bypass is elevated 20 or 30 feet up on a berm (1 mile on a viaduct).  Caltrans is getting around the “would need a new EIR” thing by claiming this is only “half” their planned bypass; they will come back and build the second half “later” although there’s no funding for it yet. Well, forgive us, but it’s been 50 years now, and we don’t expect this “second half” to materialize anytime in our lifetimes.
Thanks for reading. I hope at least you check out the web cam. Pro-bypass Willits City Council members who fought hard for a Highway 20 interchange will acknowledge that this bypass is not going to help Willits traffic much, “but at least it will get a few trucks off the road,” they say. One of them joked to me the other day that you could do the math to get a “per vehicle” cost for this bypass, “and it wouldn’t be pretty.”
Jennifer Poole
Willits, CA
Willits Weekly
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