Caltrans Selects Tunnel Alternative for Last Chance Grade Project

Last Chance Grade tunnel project rendering. Image: Caltrans.

In a significant step toward securing a long-term solution at Last Chance Grade, Caltrans has selected a preferred alternative that could pave the way for constructing a tunnel along U.S. 101 in Del Norte County.

This coastal stretch of highway south of Crescent City has long been marred by landslide activity and indefinite maintenance costs. As a vital artery connecting Del Norte County with its neighbors, any closure of U.S. 101 at Last Chance Grade has far-reaching economic and service consequences.

Caltrans has selected Alternative F, a 6,000-foot tunnel that bypasses area landslides and realigns the highway, in a move that is essential to advancing the Last Chance Grade Project efficiently. The proposed tunnel would be the longest constructed in Caltrans history.

Close collaboration with tribes, environmental groups, lawmakers, and other stakeholders resulted in a decision that maximizes long-term reliability. With construction estimated to cost around $2.1B in 2031 dollars, the tunnel avoids chronic landslides, coastal erosion, and the impacts of climate change while ensuring safety during seismic events. While the option presents challenges due to the sensitive environment and potential impacts on large-diameter, old-growth redwood trees, Caltrans is committed to delivering a successful project through partnership, community support, and collaborative mitigation efforts, exploring all avenues to stay on schedule while prioritizing quality, efficiency, and preservation.

Alternative X, which wasn’t selected, involved re-engineering the existing route in the hopes it would be resilient among the area’s mapped landslides.

Caltrans continues to seek all possible funding opportunities to realize this project. The project has remained on schedule and on budget and the project team is on track to finalize its environmental document by late 2025. Further design refinements would occur in the coming years. To keep on track, the project would need to fund design, support, right-of-way acquisition, and other costs by December 2025, and it would need to fund construction costs by 2029. If all goes according to plan, construction could begin as early as 2030. If that happens, the tunnel could be open as early as 2038, however, Caltrans is looking for any and all opportunities to accelerate this timeline.

Caltrans remains appreciative to stakeholders and leaders for their support in this timely and important decision.

A solution at Last Chance Grade has been desired for decades. The announcement of a preferred alternative follows the February release of the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS), including a Draft Section 4(f) Evaluation. These documents were the culmination of extensive engineering and scientific studies, strengthened by far-reaching collaboration.

“The selection of Alternative F is a testament to our commitment to providing a reliable long-term solution for Last Chance Grade,” said Caltrans District 1 Director Matt Brady. “We are grateful for the support of our community and partners, and we are confident that together, we can overcome the challenges ahead and deliver this critical project for the people of the region and the state of California.”

“Caltrans has diligently pursued a stakeholder-guided process with tribes, community representatives, environmental groups, agencies, and business interests to arrive at the best possible option for this landslide-plagued stretch of U.S. Highway 101,” said U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman, who convened the Last Chance Grade Huffman Stakeholder Group in 2014. “These efforts have presented an option that is the safest and most reliable alternative for Last Chance Grade. I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure North Coast residents get the best project they can as we move toward funding and construction.”

“This bold alternative was chosen after much research and stakeholder involvement and will the most reliable solution in the long run,” said California Assemblymember Jim Wood. “I appreciate all the work that Caltrans and their many partners have done to move this crucial project along and I look forward to its eventual completion.”

“After many generations of Del Norte County citizens traversing this fabled, continuously failing section of our state highway system, we have reached the conclusion to construct a tunnel with broad agreement among regional stakeholders,” said Del Norte County Supervisor Chris Howard. “Del Norte County is grateful to our community, tribal, environmental, and agency partners that have dedicated many years to finding a path forward.”

“After decades of inaction, the Last Chance Grade permanent improvement project is on the move,” said California Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire. “The decision to advance with a tunnel will finally give Del Norte the safe and secure passage on Highway 101 that the community has long deserved. Building this tunnel will be a feat in engineering that also protects the old-growth redwoods that have grown for centuries at this World Heritage Site and treats ancestral lands and cultural sites with the utmost care and sensitivity. This decision is an incredible milestone for Caltrans District 1 and represents six years of intensive collaboration and analysis. We owe huge gratitude to Del Norte neighbors for their patience along with city, county leaders, and tribal leaders, local environmental leaders, the State of California, and the federal government who have been working overtime to get this job across the finish line.”

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