Humboldt County’s Economic Development department and Caltrans have been misleading the public about potential impacts of projects to open Highways 101 and 199 and State Route 299 and to the largest trucks allowed on the National Highway Network. The latest example of this occurred in Caltrans’ response to a new safety study reported on in “Transportation group looks at fatalities” (Times-Standard, Nov. 12, 2015, Page A1). The Caltrans spokesman said, “The projects at Richardson Grove and on Routes 197 and 199 are not safety projects in-and-of-themselves. Those projects propose to realign the roadway to accommodate industry- standard commercial vehicles … .”
While the county and Caltrans have labeled oversize Surface Transportation Assistance Act trucks as “industry-standard” for years, no other county or agency has used such a nonsensical and misleading term.
For example, a 2011 CHP Highway 101 Richardson Grove safety report title appropriately includes the phrase “over-length vehicle study.” The report concluded, “Although statistical data alone does not establish a threat to public safety, the CHP cannot ignore the fact Caltrans’ studies have shown that portions of U.S. 101 are not sufficiently designed to handle the longer vehicle combination lengths … and could result in increased damage to rural highways and increased safety hazards due to longer truck tractor and semitrailer combinations having to cross into oncoming lanes while negotiating curves on narrow highways.”
The Director of South Sacramento’s Public Works reported to their City Council in July 2008, “The business owners, the public and the Police Department reported issues with STAA trucks traveling along streets that could not accommodate their size, resulting in damage to public facilities such as sidewalks, medians, signing, traffic signals and other street furniture.”
Alameda County’s ordinance on Highway Traffic Regulations includes chapter 10.16 Oversize Trucks that includes the following definitions: “Interstate truck” means a tractor-semitrailer or a tractor-semitrailertrailer which meets the requirements for operation on an interstate highway. “Oversize truck” means an interstate truck which exceeds California’s overall combination length limitations as set forth in California Vehicle Code Section 35000.
The Humboldt County Economic Development department and the Humboldt State University School of Business released their joint Humboldt Business Confidence Report in September. The report stated that the second most commonly identified barrier to growth was “costly limitations on transportation of goods … namely the limitations to smaller than standard trucks on highways … .”
I may have been born, but I wasn’t born yesterday! So I contacted the authors of the report to request the related survey and data that supported that conclusion. After studying the files with other members of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, meeting with the authors, and stating our observations, a revised Humboldt Business Confidence Report was released in December.
The revised report includes the note: “Due to the small sample size of survey data and focus group sessions, results should be interpreted with caution. This version was updated in December 2015 based on feedback from community members. The intent is to provide periodic reports/ updates to promote discussions for effective decision making and development strategies.”
The section of the report using the misleading phrase “limitations to smaller than standard trucks” has been replaced by the more accurate: “In the survey data their second barrier was costly limitations on transportation of goods and people in and out of Humboldt County due to remote location. Several focus group participants also indicated that widening road access to the region could reduce costs. The initial version of the report should have clarified that issues related to ‘remoteness of location’ were raised by the survey respondents and issues related both to remoteness and road access were brought up by several focus group participants. We recognize this is a controversial issue; we are merely providing feedback from different sources.”
There have been no comprehensive studies of the cost/benefit or cumulative impacts to safety, traffic, and development from adding the Highway 199/ State Route 197 and Highway 101 corridors through Humboldt and Del Norte, plus SR 299, to the National Highway Network. Those interested in tourism, recreation, economic development and quality of life issues need to demand honest answers or live with the consequences of the deceptive strategy used to sway the public and some elected officials.