Thousands of cars pass through this four mile stretch of highway 101 every day. The area is just south of Crescent City and its part of a regular commute for residents and travelers in Del Norte County. It’s known as Last Chance Grade and it’s notorious for slide activity. While it’s constantly under maintenance and monitored with geotechnical equipment by Caltrans, some residents feel like it’s only a matter of time before the road literally falls into the ocean.
Drivers like Dennis Sutton say often times he’s afraid of traveling over Last Chance Grade.
“I work all over, and I go into Eureka quite a bit and I have to drive up and down," Sutton said. "It makes me nervous driving down there.”
Sharon Griesbaum, a 15 year resident of Del Norte County, feels like the rest of the state does not care about their safety on the North Coast.
“It’s unsafe, it needs to be fixed. Are we that worthless to the state of California, that we’re nothing up here to them? It appears that, because I swear some of our senators have no idea where we’re at," she said.
Both Griesbaum and Sutton are worried about safety and find themselves frustrated with how long the process of fixing Last Chance Grade is taking. Caltrans District 1 actively sees those concerns and held an Assessment Risk open house this week to determine what the best possible solution is. While Caltrans has proved that the road is safe for travel, they still intend to look for a more permanent fix. The alternative solutions have now been categorized into nine different plans. Some require constructing a more inland road, but that would impact state and national parks. Other plans would require fixing the existing alignment and others would require a system of tunnels.
Senator Mike McGuire, who spoke at the open house, said that whatever plan is selected will not be cheap, but it will be essential for the well-being of Del Norte County.
“Our first goal has to be to get these dollars here in the coming year or two, and that’s our focus right now," McGuire said.
McGuire also said the plans with Caltrans and other stakeholders in Last Chance Grade has resulted in more funding towards the initial stages of the project.
Jaime Matteoli, a projects manager with Caltrans who oversees last chance grade says they’ve acquired $10 million for the environmental phase of the project, which will help them determine the best possible alternative for Last Chance Grade.
“We wanted to make sure that people understand why we were conducting the Risk Assessment, to understand that it’s something that is not a distraction from the project but actually is allowing us to speed up the process," he said.
Matteoli says Caltrans has all the resources to keep the road safe for travelers, and if another major incident occurs, that it would only take several days to get the section of the highway back in working order. Additionally, new geotechnical maps were showcased through virtual equipment to show the public the real-time topography of the region and assure them that traveling on the highway is safe. More information on the nine alignments for Last Chance Grade as well as detailed maps in the Risk Assessment presentation can be found on Caltrans District 1's project website.