WRO Staff / Tuesday, Sept. 8 @ 3:28 p.m. / Op-Ed
Friends of Del Norte: STAA 197/199 Project 'Falls Short on Safety and Long on Trucks'
The following is an opinion piece submitted by Friends of Del Norte:
Everyone wants safe travel on Highway 199; most certainly the Friends of Del Norte. But what Caltrans and the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission are proposing falls short on safety and long on trucks; Caltrans’ own estimate is 70 new trucks per day if they fund their proposed road improvements with STAA funding. Proposed road improvements include widening several stretches of road by 12 inches instead of the mandatory 48 inches as required. Does that sound safe?
Increased truck traffic is not “Destination Del Norte” traffic, not increased tourism nor tourists’ monies spent in Del Norte County. Positively experiencing nature, fun in nature, rejuvenation in nature, people will experience Del Norte and spend time and money in Del Norte and will recommend Del Norte to their friends and families. This will boost Del Norte’s economy, not increased truck traffic, truck noise and pollution. It is estimated most of the increased traffic will be pass through, not stop and spend traffic.
Increased truck traffic is an increased opportunity for a lethal leakage of vehicle fluids and cargo into the pristine Smith River. This has the potential to have deleterious impacts to our fish and wildlife, water quality, recreation, and our health. The Smith River is our drinking water.
Increased truck traffic will not improve safety on highways 199 and 197 because there will be more vehicles (70 new large trucks) on the roads and an exemption from mandatory widths. Whatever benefits gained by the widening of five sites on the 199 will be lost by increased numbers of 70 new large trucks traffic on the road.
The pristine Wild and Scenic Smith River Canyon does not benefit with increased truck traffic, traffic noise and pollution. Visitors and residents’ experiences will be less positive not more. Increased truck traffic on the 197 and 199 will decrease quality of life for guests, visitors, homeowners, residents, park goers along both sides of the Smith River.
Increased truck traffic with STAA trucks may actually reduce income in Del Norte County for recreational outfitters, owners of campgrounds (private and public), Airbnbs, hotels and motels, rental homes, and fishing guides. Commercial fishermen may also feel this impact economically as salmon, steelhead and some trout populations require both fresh water streams, rivers, and ocean waters to complete their life cycles. Increased truck traffic may increase costs of treating our drinking water or keeping our drinking water safe based on accidents that involve the river and increased roadway debris runoff entering the river.
The Covid-19 pandemic has inadvertently demonstrated to us that outdoor spaces, our public lands, are essential to our health, economic recovery and present and future community well-being. It behooves us to act conservatively and not risk our health and safety to increased truck traffic on the 199 and 197 due to STAA access status.
Friends of Del Norte are not opposed to safety improvements on Highways 199 and 197. Friends of Del Norte are opposed to the funding source and its requisite allowance of STAA trucks and the concurrent repercussions of greater numbers of large trucks. It is not progress, not safe, not in our best interests to risk our UNESCO World Heritage, National Recreation Area, National and State parks, destination site that is the Wild and Scenic Smith River, all for greater truck traffic with larger trucks.
Because the STAA highway project has the potential to be economically and environmentally harmful and actually decrease safety along the 197/199 corridor, the potential to decrease quality of life and experiences for residents and guests, and increase traffic accidents with increased numbers of traffic and STAA trucks on the highways, Friends of Del Norte recommend Del Norte County and citizenry work with Caltrans to promote a SAFETY FIRST Campaign and an alternative source of funding for safety improvements on Highways 199 and 197.