Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 12:20 p.m. / Roads, Traffic

Caltrans Seeks Input on U.S. 101 Safety Project Near Damnation Creek

Caltrans plans to use superelevation, or banking, to increase the safety at two curves on U.S. 101 near Damnation Creek | Images courtesy of Caltrans District 1


Draft Environmental Impact Report


Caltrans is seeking public comment on a project they say will make U.S. 101 near Damnation Creek safer.

Planned for a stretch of highway that has a collision rate six times higher than average for similar roads, the Damnation Creek Safety Project will use superelevation, also known as banking, at two curves to reduce skidding and tipping, according to Tyler Brown, environmental coordinator for the project.

“Superelevation exists on most of the highways that are around here,” Brown said. “You probably don’t notice it except when you’re going around a turn and you feel gravity pulling the car on some turns more than others. Superelevation can have a significant impact on how fast or how safe you are traveling around those turns in a car.”

Speaking at a virtual public meeting Tuesday, Brown said the project also includes installing a new Midwest Guardrail System that is safer than the current concrete barriers.

The Damnation Creek Safety Project is estimated to cost about $15 million and is planned for between post miles 15.6 and 16.2 on U.S. 101 south of Crescent City. According to Brown, the project area is just north of Last Chance Grade.

“Caltrans has been pursuing [and] studying this since May 2021,” Brown said. “The draft environmental document is circulating right now. If you’d like to comment on the draft environmental document, please submit it by Jan. 29.”

Caltrans will address comments on the draft environmental documents in February and March before circulating a final document. According to Brown, construction is expected to occur in 2025 and 2026 with completion in 2026.

Once construction starts, traffic will be reduced to one lane, Brown said. The Damnation Creek Trailhead in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park will also be closed to the public since it’s in the middle of the project area, he said.

According to Tamera Leighton, executive director for the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission, because of the numbers of injuries and fatalities that have occurred in that area, the safety project is mandated.

“Part of the problem with this location, part of the reason it rose to that level, has to do with construction at Last Chance Grade and driver behavior,” Leighton told the Wild Rivers Outpost, referring to the years of emergency work aimed at keeping the road through the landslide-prone area open. “People got frustrated, so when they were finally released from delays at Last Chance Grade they drove like maniacs trying to pass and they drove too fast for the conditions and crashed. All the indicators for why this area rose to that level had to do with the construction.”

About two months ago, Caltrans reopened U.S. 101 to two-way traffic at Last Chance Grade for the first time in nearly a decade.

On Tuesday, Brown said the Damnation Creek Safety Project is not the Last Chance Grade project. Caltrans will hold a public meeting on efforts to find a permanent solution to Last Chance Grade on Jan. 24.


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