Caltrans under fire for Del Norte County highway projects

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EUREKA- A Caltrans project to widen sections of two Del Norte County highways is under fire by local environmental groups who say the construction will put local salmon at risk.

The project was scheduled to begin in May with plans to widen narrow portions of Highways 197 and 199 along the Smith River to improve safety and provide access for commercial trucks.

In a lawsuit against the transportation department local conservation groups, the EPIC, Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Del Norte, said that the projects would increase erosion and sediment pollution into the river, putting coho salmon populations at risk.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the construction is meant to allow oversized trucks travel the route. They say that increased traffic of that kind would cause safety concerns and hurt tourism.

Caltrans halted the construction in May pending reassessment of the project’s environmental impact. However, officials state that the re-evaluation was voluntary and that the widening of the highways is for common industry standard trucks, rather than oversized vehicles.

“There were some concerns addressed about safety with our projects alleging that Caltrans was not taking into account safety for the public but all these small spot projects that Caltrans is proposing along 199 will also improve the safety for everyone,” said Caltrans Public Information Officer Phil Frisbie Jr.