Friday, June 24, 2011

Richardson Grove as important as general plan update [for Humboldt County]

Richardson Grove as important as general plan update

Ken Miller/For The Times-Standard

Wholesale STAA access through Richardson Grove is potentially the most immediately devastating threat to our county.
It would open the north-south link in a circuit connecting Interstate 5 and U.S. Highway 101 via routes 199, 299, and 20, putting large diesel trucks on 101 through, not just into, our county, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Signaling or one-way traffic would create harmful congestion in the grove, and do nothing about the STAA traffic through the county.

Who benefits?

Mainly the international trucking industry and a few local businesses. Caltrans' EIR acknowledges that local industries do not need these trucks: “... There is a maximum weight restriction for loads as well as maximum length of cabs and trailers, and that for heavy loads, the economic advantage for the larger vehicles is not there,” concluding that the “Proposed project would not result in significant increases in overall economic productivity in the region.”

Wal-Mart and Home Depot in Crescent City have been the squeakiest wheels for Richardson Grove and 199, whining that lack of STAA access costs them $15,000 monthly, savings they would surely use to undercut local businesses, and exchange good paying jobs for low-wage employment as their stores are linked all along the 101 corridor.
Could the new general plan stand up to STAA-related sprawl development?

Vehicular traffic from the proposed Marina Center is estimated at 16,000 trips daily. Add STAA to that and the pressure to open and widen Waterfront Drive and bypass Eureka escalates. Caltrans never considers this, despite the 2003 Caltrans-funded study warning about the “constraint on economic development” from “traffic congestion on U.S. 101 in Eureka's commercial and retail areas due to heavy overlapping uses for trucking, through traffic, and local traffic.”

Ambulance and coroner business may spike. These large trucks represent less than 3 percent of vehicles, but are involved in 14 percent of fatal crashes, and automobile passengers constitute 98 percent of the fatalities in car vs. truck accidents.

Who loses?

The project is a job killer for many local businesses, and will cost the rest of us in road damages, safety hazards, noise and air pollution, congestion, and quality of life. Trinidad will not be so quaint, or quiet, with 24/7 STAA on the 101 grade.
Many of these trucks have extra cabs with kitchens and beds enabling transit from Mexico to Canada without needing a motel or restaurant.

Ancient redwoods may not tolerate modern road use and construction technology. Trees that have survived for a century next to the current roadbed may have benefited from the paucity of heavy truck traffic, as well as construction in 1915 with horse and buggies, hand tools, and gravel, mitigating factors that this project would undo overnight.

Arguments that road construction will not harm ancient redwoods rely on Caltrans' arborists who have no expertise in redwoods, and on Caltrans' own claims.

Experts like Steve Sillett and Stan Binnie registered serious concerns about disturbing woody and feeder roots, justified by the numerous ancient redwoods whose tops are dying back along 101, and those which have fallen, revealing evidence of road or path-induced damage. Hence Redwood Park warnings to avoid walking over roots.

Scientific literature is clear that redwood roots interconnect for up to 500 feet, and that roots larger than one inch are considered “major.” Yet Caltrans claims that roots larger than two inches in diameter will not be cut in the structural root zone, ignoring the critical feeder roots. According to HSU's Professor Sillett, there have been no relevant studies on the impacts of roadways on redwood roots.
If ancient redwoods suffer due to this project, how many hundreds or thousands of years will it take for the damage to show up? And what penalty, or relief, is there?

Perhaps the saddest casualty has been the failure to consider alternatives to 6 mpg STAA trucks for our goods movement in the face of greenhouse gas emissions, rising fuel costs and sea levels, and climate change.

Short sea shipping from our undeveloped port is the most efficient transport modality on the planet, and with 299 STAA access it could meet nearly all of our shipping needs, creating boatloads of jobs.

A 2003 Caltrans' Cambridge Systematics study summed up the benefit of not widening 101 through Richardson Grove, and retaining the critical buffer between 101 and I-5: “The county's relative geographic isolation has spared it from some of the sprawl and growth pressures that have impacted many of California's coastal communities, lending the area a quality of life cherished by residents.”

Ken Miller resides in McKinleyville.

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