Save Little Lake Valley

Stop the Caltrans Willits Bypass!

We are stunned by the collapse of a section of the Willits Bypass viaduct, and we join with everyone in the community in sending prayers to the injured workers.

We are very concerned that a full, independent investigation needs to take place to determine what caused this collapse and to assure the safety of the construction of the entire project. So far, there is little information, and it appears the only investigation is being done by OSHA and by Caltrans itself. While OSHA addresses worker safety, we believe it is equally important to have independent analysis of the structural integrity of the rest of the viaduct, to assess the ability of the piers to withstand flooding, viscous soil, and earthquakes and to test the strength of the reinforcing steel used. These questions require clear answers before construction continues.

In addition to the shocking failure of the section of viaduct, the slopes at the southern interchange of this project have been unstable, with several substantial slides this winter causing partial closures of the current highway. This, too, needs to be analyzed to avoid safety risks to both workers and motorists.

And at the northern interchange, only a fraction of the 900,000 cubic yards of fill ultimately planned for this massive interchange have yet been brought in, and none of the proposed five bridges have yet been built. Could unstable subsoil conditions and/or sliding fill material cause future safety issues here as well? The whole valley is hundreds of feet deep of alluvial deposits, with no bedrock or solid footing for all this construction.

Moreover, at the northern interchange, Caltrans is planning numerous 3’ diameter culverts to channel creeks and runoff under the wide swath of the interchange (over 200’ wide in some places). If these culverts become clogged or fail, there could be major flooding problems.

Last but certainly not least, scores of Native American artifacts have been discovered (an entire ancient village and other sites have been destroyed; required protocols have not been followed) in the northern interchange area as well as in the proposed wetland mitigation areas. Further precautions are required, and this may constrain the already expensive, speculative, and potentially destructive mitigation plans.

We recognize that there is a huge investment in seeing this Bypass project completed. Yet it is already – even before the viaduct collapse – far over budget and behind schedule. Caltrans and the contractor cannot be allowed to simply bull-doze ahead, with reckless disregard for safety, cost, cultural sites, and ecosystems.

There is still an opportunity to reduce some of the damage, cost overruns, delays, and risks, by eliminating the unnecessary 4-lane freeway interchange at the northern terminus of the project. Since Phase 1 is only 2 lanes – and Phase 2 seems extremely unlikely in the foreseeable future if ever – a simple 2-lane intersection or roundabout could eliminate the need for an estimated 700,000 cubic yards of fill, four bridges, and many tons of concrete, not to mention concomitant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This design change could also enable restoring about 24 acres of wetlands on the site (instead of speculative “creation” wetlands elsewhere) and avoid further destruction of Native American cultural resources.  

Caltrans must be held accountable. There must be an independent investigation. And Caltrans must be compelled to implement measures to reduce the impacts and cost over-runs by eliminating the northern interchange. We look forward to your leadership and cooperation in this matter.