June 14, 2024


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The tunnels at Devil's Slide were not a traffic solution. Traffic is as bad, or worse, than ever at the stoplights in Pacifica and on the Midcoast at the Princeton/El Granada lights and elsewhere on Highway 1 due to the greater number of vehicles and the population growth and development the tunnels facilitate.

Up north, District 1 of Caltrans is no stranger to tunnels, the most notable in my memory being the Collier Tunnel, dug decades before the Devil's Slide tunnels. The Collier Tunnel bypassed a windy, weather-hammered two-lane road over a mountain (so traffic was not the issue). But it was not entirely clean, being somewhat of a gift and honor to longtime and politically powerful State Senator Randolph Collier of Yreka, the head of the Senate Transportation Committee. (This was far from the only multimillion-dollar highway project Collier schemed for his district, but those are other stories.)

On the north coast, Last Chance Grade and several other geologically problematic locations on 101 in Humboldt and Del Norte counties have been struggled with and fought over for many years. One aspect of the problems has been the desire of Caltrans to make 101 in Northern California a freeway throughout its length, so highway construction in these slide-prone areas would require enormous amounts of cutting on mountainsides and cliffsides. This runs afoul of many environmental considerations and regulations, and draws the ire of environmental protectors who have learned to challenge freeway projects everywhere in their district, considering the extensive environmental damage caused by such developments as the freeway bypass at Prairie Creek, business-killing bypasses around towns in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, and the never-dying threat posed by Caltrans's desire to bash a wider road through Richardson Grove. Of course, there are also huge environmental problems of many sorts caused by oversize tunnel projects--some of the biggest of these depredations off-site from the actual construction and glossed over or swept under the rug--so it will be interesting to see the actual physical nature of what Caltrans proposes for Last Chance Grade. It will likely not be the last tunnel it tries to sell, as tunnel projects bring as much (or more) money into the agency as surface roads. Will it be able to keep a tunnel to a true two lanes? Or will it play self-serving, patently-stupid-but-effective-with-the-public semantic games as it did with the Devil's Slide tunnels?

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