The Willits ByPass
Caltrans is spending up to $300 million to bulldoze a six-mile, four-lane freeway the size of Interstate 5 around the community of Willits, in Mendocino County, California. The project is causing unnecessary environmental damage to increasingly rare wetlands, salmon-bearing streams and endangered plants, and is not needed for the traffic volumes through Willits. Over the course of 2013 the Willits Bypass Project became one of the most significant environmental conflicts to erupt on the North Coast in the past decade.
The project has destroyed more than 86 acres of wetlands, requiring the largest wetlands fill permit in Northern California in the last 50 years!
A 1998 Caltrans study found that 70-80 percent of traffic causing congestion in downtown Willits was local traffic; the bypass would only divert 20%-30% of Willits’ Main Street traffic.
There are alternatives to reduce traffic congestion in Willits including: internal street connections, bike paths, safe crosswalks, improved intersection performance, and better local public transit that would be able serve the needs of the interregional traffic and reduce construction impacts, time, and cost.
EPIC joined conservation partners in filing a lawsuit in April 2012 challenging the Willits Bypass. Caltrans should have considered alternatives that do not fill wetlands, harm endangered species and respects the local community. The federal court challenge was based on claims under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. The case was heard on June 21, 2013 and the judge ruled on December 19, 2013 that Caltrans’ environmental review and permits for the Willits Bypass were adequate and the agency can continue construction of a four-lane freeway around the community of Willits, despite environmental violations and improper issuance of federal and county quarry and fill permits. EPIC will continue to monitor and engage with this project, and to support the Willits community in their ongoing efforts to reduce the ecological footprint of this massive and unnecessary project.
Public Action Has Exposed Caltrans’ Need For Reform – Times-Standard
UPDATE (November 1, 2012)
UPDATE (September 10, 2012)