Caltrans has been adamant ever since they lost their Richardson Grove Highway Realignment case* in Federal Court in 2014 and were chastised by the judge for their false data and sloppy analysis. The agency was determined to resurrect their plan to accommodate oversized STAA big rig trucks on Hwy. 101 through the heart of redwood country. So their announcement in May 2017 of new documents outlining the same plan many organizations fought for years came as no surprise—but it makes it no more palatable.

*Plaintiffs in the case challenging Caltrans’ project were EPIC, the Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and individuals. images-1

Caltrans did make minor changes in what they call the “Richardson Grove Improvement Project”, including some that slightly shrunk the overall footprint (the disturbed area is now .67 acres, down from .73):

  • reduced the overall amount of fill (1,045 cu. yards to 395 cu. yd.)
  • reducing the cubic yards to be excavated from around old growth redwood roots (2,530 to 570 cu. yd.);
  • reducing total number of (non old-growth) trees cut from 54 to 38;
  • new pavement occurs in 0.23 acre, down from 0.30;

But the concerns from economic, ecologic and community perspective remain essentially the same.

This road widening—a straightening of the curves, if you will—is proposed in a publicly-owned ancient redwood forest, within a 97-year old State Park, encompassing critical potential and current habitat for at-risk and sensitive species.

Moreover, most of California’s residents, who fill Caltrans coffers with their tax dollars, would rather the agency put their budget and staff to work on the plethora of needed repairs on the state’s highways. In our drenching winter of 2016-17, the road maintenance and repair needs came into stark relief as hillsides came roaring across highways, sinkholes opened up, and the tires of our vehicles crashed into potholes and disintegrating pavement. Nationally, poor road conditions cost motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs, and heavier trucks will only make bad conditions worse.

New projects that primarily benefit the trucking industry are not a higher priority for most people than maintenance of existing roads and expansion of alternative transportation means.   The trucks Caltrans is spending millions of public funds to accommodate are “STAA trucks” (Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982), which are now populating the big interstates like I-5 and I-80. But these longer, heavier big rigs don’t belong on unstable coastal roads winding through protected ancient forests.

There is much reliance in the just-released documents on the original 2010 EIR (Environmental Impact Report) documents, including an unabashed carrying forward of the FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact), despite the fact that the plans still employ, among other features, a pneumatic excavator around the roots of ancient redwoods (akin to a jackhammer), clearly posing a threat to the old trees’ health and long life.

Because Caltrans issued an “Addendum to the Final EIR” rather than developing a new one, there is no public comment period.

Other avenues for voices opposed to this waste of public funds and threat to forest ecology must be found and used—from

writing to Caltrans directly (1120 N St., Sacramento 95814),

writing letters to the editor,

mobilizing people via social media, including commenting on Caltrans’ FB page directly on the announcement of this plan, and

telling Gov. Jerry Brown that if he really wants to be a leader in reducing human impacts on climate change, his transportation agency needs to drop its truck and car-centric, bigger faster highway agenda and focus on low carbon transportation options as well as repairs that make existing roads safer and more fuel efficient.

BACH’s “Put the Brakes on Caltrans” project, for its part, is mobilizing in the Bay Area and planning media strategy.

You can find the project documents at

http://dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1projects/richardson_grove/

We will amend this post with more addresses and sample letters.

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