Why should we prioritize transportation spending on maintenance and repairs?
Our roads and bridges need attention. The US Highway Trust Fund is underfunded and in danger of going broke. Meanwhile, the California state highway system is “deteriorating at an accelerating rate,” according to the California Transportation Commission’s 2011 Statewide Transportation System Needs Assessment. In our region, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Humboldt County’s roads a D+ and its bridges a C- in a 2014 report card. No report exists for Del Norte County, but conditions are likely to be similar.
What’s the problem with big trucks?
Big trucks cause big damage and threaten the livability of our communities. As stated in the California Transportation Commission’s 2011 Statewide Transportation System Needs Assessment, “increasing truck traffic will accelerate the deterioration of the transportation infrastructure.” With maintenance of our current infrastructure already underfunded, this is a very serious problem.
And big trucks impact more than just the pavement—they also bring more driver stress, noise, air pollution, and an increased risk of serious accidents. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large trucks are only 4% of registered vehicles, but account for 11% of fatal accidents. When a big truck and a car collide, 97% of those who die are car occupants. A 2003 report for Caltrans by Cambridge Systematics for noted that traffic congestion in Eureka, due in large part to “overlapping uses” by local cars and non-local trucks, was a significant constraint on local economic development.
What does “STAA” mean?
The biggest trucks on the road today are called “STAA trucks” after the federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982. These oversized trucks can currently enter Humboldt and Del Norte Counties by taking US 101 from Oregon and will soon be able to take Highway 299 from I-5 at Redding. STAA trucks serving the cattle industry also take US 101 north through Richardson Grove; most other STAA trucks are not allowed through the Grove without a Highway Patrol escort.
What is the purpose of the Caltrans projects at Richardson Grove and on Highways 199/197?
Caltrans wants to spend millions in state and federal money on projects to widen and straighten US 101 at Richardson Grove and Highways 199 and 197 at seven different locations. It is already constructing a similar major project on Highway 299 at Buckhorn Grade. The purpose of all of these projects is to give oversized STAA trucks more ways to enter and circulate in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties.
How will these projects affect our local economy?
Supporters have claimed that these projects will help the local economy. Most of these claims are based on a single report by Dr. David Gallo on the Richardson Grove project. This 2008 report used anonymous survey responses from 19 unknown businesses to draw unrealistic and contradictory conclusions about the economic impacts for all of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. A more objective, rigorous and up-to-date study which accounts for all three current STAA truck access projects (Richardson Grove, 199/197, and 299) is needed to accurately assess the likely impacts of the projects. The only thing that’s currently clear is that the projects will benefit non-local trucking companies with fleets of oversized trucks.
How will these projects affect our local communities?
The first step in analyzing the impacts of the projects on communities in Humboldt & Del Norte Counties would be to determine the change in truck traffic which would occur as a result. However, no analysis has been done of the cumulative traffic impacts of the projects. Instead, in each case, Caltrans inexplicably claimed that the projects would somehow boost the local economy without substantially increasing truck traffic. Based on this unrealistic assumption, Caltrans has avoided assessing the impacts of greater truck traffic on safety, congestion, air pollution and noise in our communities.
If oversized STAA trucks will soon be able to access Humboldt and Del Norte Counties from Highway 299, why are the projects at Richardson Grove and Highways 199/197 needed?
They’re not. Initial assessments of these projects occurred before it was publicly known that a new STAA truck access route to our region would soon be available via Highway 299. In light of this new development, the justifications for these projects no longer make sense (if they ever did).