“From Hallelujah Junction to the junction of State Route 36, the vision is to have as close to a four lane divided highway, similar to what’s on the south side of Hallelujah Junction,” said Lassen County Transportation Commission’s head Matt Boyer at a June 11 town hall at Jensen Hall.
“Traffic this year is substantially more significant both on the truck side and the vehicular side,” said Boyer.
“We have a really unusual set of safety issues out there on the corridor,” and “the best way to get to that safety operational objective (is) to provide for two lanes in each direction with a divided medium,” said Boyer at the meeting.
Many items and proposals were addressed at the commission’s meeting, with an emphasis on the multiple safety issues the corridor presents.
Problems such as dark intersections, wildlife and even access points throughout the corridor like the one on Bass Hill, which has claimed many lives, were topics of discussion.
One of the problems the commission is seeking to mitigate is the differential in speed limits on the corridor.
“The one thing you can do is provide those two continuous lanes in either direction so that we don’t have those drivers getting stuck behind the trucks and we don’t have these series of passing lanes,” which Boyer said “aren’t really the best solutions because,” there’s always “that one car that wants to race by and try to pass before the passing lane ends.”
While Caltrans holds the fiscal responsibility for maintenance on existing roads as a primary objective, they do not, however, control the money to build new systems throughout the area.
Twenty years ago, the money Caltrans used to build new infrastructure was dispersed to local transportation commissions throughout the state, for local control of transportation dollars. Boyer said those dollars are now, “part of that $2.5 to $3.5 million we get every year.”
Boyer explained the upside of the dispersal of those funds to the regional transportation agencies was now they had, “Total control. We don’t have some appointed transportation committee in Sacramento making decisions about roads in Lassen County.”
“The problem was,” Boyer said, “the purchasing power of our dollars was going down and there wasn’t going to be enough revenues to continue to build the infrastructure we need,” and now these agencies “locally control an inadequate sum of money.”
So now, the endeavors of these agencies throughout the state such as the LCTC’s goal of bringing a four lane highway on 395 at Hallelujah Junction to somewhere close to Susanville have some serious strategizing to do.
Boyer’s answer to this challenge is to, “build a coalition.”
The LCTC is looking to bypass the funding systems in Sacramento and “take advantage of a few strategic opportunities we have back in Washington and bring it out to Lassen County,” said Boyer.
They are seeking out those who have name recognition throughout the state and the nation, to assist them in making their message loud and clear to those back in D.C.
One hugely important advantage, Boyer says they have revolves around the fact “395 up to Herlong is part of the Military Defense Highway Network, which is called Strategic Highway Network” to which “it has it’s own opportunities for funding.”
Boyer shared an extensive list of possible stakeholders for the project. The list included local agencies, organizations, elected officials and county governments (throughout California, Nevada and Oregon) in addition to private associations and businesses such as the California Trucking Association, Tesla, Amazon and FedEx.
With the change in the way consumers purchase their goods; such as superstores giving rise to fulfillment centers like Amazon, freight is vastly changing.
Another aspect on the commission’s radar is the “economic growth, especially in Washoe County, (which) has started to push more and more employees living in Lassen County commuting over,” said Boyer.
The main reason they are observing this growth is due to the highway’s possible importance to these large employers such as Tesla and Amazon: Their employees need a safe corridor to drive to work.
Boyer stressed the commission and coalition will have to constantly refine what their vision is, “so we don’t overbuild something we don’t need,” and so they also, “don’t under-build something we will regret.”
Boyer showed graphics from the Caltrans Concept Report and highlighted the difficulties and benefits from having a completely separated four-lane highway all the way through the two points on Highway 395, mentioned earlier.
At certain points, especially through the community areas of Milford, Doyle and Herlong, there may be difficulty achieving a four-lane highway, so Boyer emphasized nothing had been decided as of yet.
Scott White, an engineer from the Caltrans office of System Planning, spoke up about one of the participant’s suggestions of having three lanes with constantly and alternating passing lanes.
“The standards that are required now to construct passing lanes are different. We can’t build the kind of passing lanes that are out there any more. The standards are different,” and said the three-lane highway would “create some extremely unsafe conditions.”
“The passing lanes that we used to build, we can’t build today,” said White.
The LCTC is starting with building the coalition and getting stronger data. Their next meeting is to recommend setting aside $100,000 of their planning money to work on both. Further along, the commission will be going to Washington to ask for large sums of money to do the environmental studies. As they pick a first priority project, they’ll be asking for $8 million to do the final environmental studies and design. They’ll then ask for $75 million to build a first phase.
Throughout the project’s continuance, the LCTC will be hosting various community meetings and forums to stay rooted in the community’s needs.