Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 3:35 p.m. / Roads

State Transportation Commission Recommits to STAA 197/199 Project A Decade After An Injunction Stalled It

Map of the STAA 197/199 project. | Courtesy of the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission


Federal Judge Lifts Nearly Decade-Old Injunction That Halted STAA 197/199 Project


Local officials are claiming victory after the California Transportation Commission recommitted to funding a project to bring U.S. 199 and State Route 197 up to federal trucking standards.

The CTC’s decision last month, allowing the 197/199 Safe STAA Access project to move forward, comes after a federal judge lifted a nearly decades-old injunction in March 2023. Construction is expected to begin in the 2028-29 fiscal year, according to the CTC’s Dec. 7 staff report.

This is a significant milestone, Tamera Leighton, executive director of the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission, told the Wild Rivers Outpost. But since Friends of Del Norte, the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit that stalled the project in 2014, its cost has increased to $60 million, she said.

“The true cost of the litigation is unknown,” Leighton said, adding that the cost escalation doesn’t include attorneys fees and the additional staff time Caltrans had to put into the STAA 197/199 project. “I do know the cost escalation went from $34 million to $60 million for all the projects combined. I do know serious injuries and fatalities have happened at those locations at an alarming rate and I know right now it’s fully funded.”

The 197/199 project includes widening two curves on State Route 197 near Ruby Van Deventer Park and three curves on U.S. 199 in the narrows, the Patrick Creek area and at Washington Curve.

According to Caltrans, the aim is to allow industry standard-sized trucks to access the North Coast, incorporating the corridor into the national network of Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) truck routes.

According to Leighton, the project was originally funded in 2008. It had gone through the environmental permitting project and was cleared for construction when Friends of Del Norte, EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity filed its lawsuit.

The three conservation organizations believed the STAA 197/199 project would increase the number of larger trucks in the corridor, which wends its way alongside the Smith River, the source of Crescent City’s drinking water.

In the 2014 lawsuit, the plaintiffs questioned the adequacy of the environmental review process Caltrans and the National Marine Fisheries Service conducted. Following the injunction, Caltrans and NMFS conducted another review of the project’s environmental impacts. The two agencies released a new biological assessment in 2017 that put more emphasis on locations in Oregon, including the U.S. 199 corridor from State Route 197 to its junction with Interstate 5 in Grants Pass.

According to the March 3, 2023 ruling filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, NMFS and Caltrans considered potential impacts to both the Smith River and Rogue River basins. The ruling states Caltrans’ environmental assessment addressed traffic safety and concluded that it wouldn’t materially increase as a result of the project.

On Wednesday, Leighton said she requested a safety audit of U.S. 199, which is something Caltrans has committed to. She said she expected a draft of that audit in February.

“The data already demonstrates that these locations are among the highest injury and fatality locations on U.S. 199,” she said, referring to the three curves slated for widening.

At the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission’s meeting Tuesday, Leighton pointed out that over the past roughly 15 years the agency has sought the help of several other governing bodies to advocate for the 197/199 STAA project. Leighton said the DNLTC approached some agencies multiple times.

Earlier on Tuesday, District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short listed the action the court took in March to lift the injunction amongst the Board of Supervisors’ accomplishments for 2023.

His colleague, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard attended the CTC’s meeting in December, thanking them for approving the project.

“It’s taken us a long time to get here,” he said. “Many lives and property lost, a lot of tragedy in those two decades. But we’re here now, and I really want to thank this commission for staying with us in little Del Norte County.”


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