According to Caltrans, the maximum volume of regional traffic likelynto use a bypass, including Sherwood Road commuters, is 7,500 vehicles per day based on measurements taken in 1998. Caltrans projects the maximunm regional traffic volume to be 12,000 vehicles per day by the year 2028 (the "planning life" of the project). According to the Highway Capacity Manual, a two-lane bypass can handle up to 26,000 vehicles per day.
Using Caltrans' growth p[rojections of about 2% per year, a two-lane bypass would still operate at less than 60% of capacity by the year 2050. Projections beyond 50 years are highly speculative and are not considered by traffic engineers.
Any bypass will significantly reduce the congestion in town by removing the through traffic. However, more than 2/3 of the traffic currently on Main Stret is local and would not be affected by a bypass. Without in-town traffic circulation improvements, congestion would still be experienced along Main Street, especially during the evening rush hour. According to Caltrans' in-town growth projections, local traffic in the year 2028, even with a bypass, will be higher than it is today without a bypass.
Safety is another consideration. Freeways tend to have lowr accident rates (although accidents tend to be more severe due to higher speeds) because two of the major causes of accidents, cross traffic and head-on collisions, are eliminated. The proposed two-lane bypass would do the same with controlled access and a median barrier. In addition, the lower speed of a two-lane bypass could result in significantly fewer fatalities compared to a high speed freeway.
Caltrans' projected cost of the various four-lane freeway alternatives ranges from $115 million to $191 million. The two-lane bypass is estimated at $60 to $90 million. The total now budgeted for the project is $117 million. It may be possible that the savings of a two-lane option could be used to create in-town traffic improvements, to lesen the impact on the valley, and to creat a more attractive roadway.
Caltrans acknowledges that "trafic projections do not justify a four-lane freeway." However, their reasons for wanting a freeway are based on a decades-old goal to make highway 101 into a four-lane freeway to the Oregon border, rather than on current or projected traffic volume. Both state and federal law require a project to consider a full range of technically feasible alternatives. An alternative does not become infeasible merely because Caltrans doesn't like it. The two- lane bypass accomplishes the purpose of reducing delays to reginal traffic at much less cost to our community and our valley. As a state agency funded by our tax dollars, Caltrans is obligated to study a full range of alternatives and do what is in the public's best interest.
- Noise would be less than from a high-speed freeway.
- Lower speed would result in substantially less air pollution.
- Lower speds allow more options and greater flexibility in the desigh of the roadway and interchanges.
- Economic impacts to local businesses could be reduced by getting drivers out of "freeway driving mode" and enticing them into town.
- Because the "footprint" of the two-lane bypass would only be about half that of a freeway alternative, there would only be about half the amount of land used.
- The design of the two-lane bypass would require significantly less cut and fill, greatly reducing the impacts to the Valley and surrounding hillsides.
- The divided two-lane bypass would be less of a visual impact than a four-lane freeway.
- Construction for the smaller two-lane bypass would be significantly less than for a four-lane freeway.
Caltrans is in the process of compiling a Draft Environmental Impact Report/Statement (EIR/EIS) about the Willits bypass which should be ready for public review in December, 2000 or January, 2001. Only the options analyzed in that study will be considered for construction. Currently, only four-lane alternatives along several routes, and a "Transportation Management System" (five lanes through town) are included. Your comments at this stage are critical to ensuring the Draft EIR/EIS include a two-lane bypass alternative. Write to:
Caltrans District 1
P.O. Box 3700
Eureka, CA 95502-3700
Willits City Council
111 East Commercial Street
Willits, CA 95490
Your letters and phone calls can have a hugh impact. More information can be obtained from us by calling (707) 459-9545, or visiting our web site at www.willits2-lanebypass.org. You can also register your support on our website.
Copyright Mendocino Environmental Center 2000
Permission granted to excerpt or use this article if source is cited