Phil Carville: Government bully threatens Highway 174 in Nevada County |

Phil Carville: Government bully threatens Highway 174 in Nevada County

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Phil Carville

Caltrans District 3 plans to drastically widen Highway 174, unnecessarily eliminate trees and wet meadows, re-pave the existing two lanes into two 12-foot lanes and two 8-foot lanes, excessively wide “control zones” and generally ruin the rural nature of this highway.

The project design has been challenged by the SAVE HWY174 committee, by 1,200 persons who have signed a petition, by the Nevada County Transportation Commission and by the Board of Supervisors.

Yes, there are many safety and scenic improvements that can be made. No one is opposing those improvements. What is opposed is the costly “freeway style” design which will forever ruin this scenic highway.


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There is widespread support for sensible improvements to this road but not as Caltrans has proposed.

This road is recognized by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors as one of the most scenic and historically rich highways in the Sierra foothills, is classified as a County Scenic Road and is on the state list of Eligible State Scenic Roadways.

But the beauty and historic nature of this rural road will be ruined if Caltrans is allowed to proceed with an ill-founded, biased, 1.9-mile, $28 million expansion project which will convert this road into ugly freeway-style, 85-120 foot wide cleared zone, a gouge on the land with 40-feet of pavement.

The travesty is that Caltrans:

  • Has justified this project with biased, statistically invalid “accident data” over a three-year period, concluding that the road is dangerous, but when statistically valid 10-year “accident data” is used, the road safer than the state average.
  • Has justified this project as “Type III Project” (minor road modifications, guard rails, etc.) which does not require an Environmental Impact Report, but actually it is a “Type I Project” (major road changes, pavement expansion, straightening horizontal and vertical curves, etc.) which does require an EIR.
  • Has justified this project with a ‘negative declaration’ and has not done an EIR which is required for Type I Projects.
  • Has justified this project without using Federal Highway Administration safety countermeasures which are lower cost ways to create safer roads,
  • Has projected a cost of $28 million or $14 million per mile which is a waste of taxpayer funds when those funds could be used for more commonsense road improvements for a greater number of miles on this road.


In 2014 Caltrans concluded that the road was “unsafe” at the current 45 mph and this $28 million-dollar project is necessary,

However, a Caltrans traffic study dated May 29, 2018 and submitted to Fernando Rivera, chief of the Traffic Safety Branch, concluded that the current highway “is safe” and recommended that the speed limit should be “increased to 50 mph from the existing 45 mph” … without the proposed project.

How can this highway be both “unsafe” and ‘“safe” at the same time for the same stretch of road?


District 3 managers are acting like bullies. On July 11, 2017, the BOS passed Resolution # 17-552 and sent a letter to Ray Zhang, District 3 Director, requesting clarification on a number of project issues. Director Zhang responded with some accident data, but refused to address several specific issues requested by the BOS:

  • Engage the community – Not fully addressed
  • Reassess the project and scope of work – Not fully addressed
  • How the design will affect the rural scenic highway – Not fully addressed
  • Will this project set a precedent for other roads? – Not addressed
  • Why was only 1 of 20 federal safety countermeasure used in the design? – Not addressed
  • Why was the project classified by Caltrans as a ‘Type III’ (minor) project instead of classification as a “Type I’ (major) project – Not Addressed
  • Why was the project justified on 3-year limited data set, when a 10-year data set results in a different conclusion? – Not addressed
  • Why has Caltrans misrepresented the scope of the project? – Not addressed.
  • Why is District 3 bullying the citizens of Nevada County?

There is widespread support for sensible improvements to this road but not as Caltrans has proposed. Support requires that Caltrans meet in good conscience and openness with interested parties. But so far Caltrans has resisted true dialog and meeting in good faith.

Attend the Board of Supervisors meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, to learn more. This could be a great project if the bully would only listen to the people.

To learn more, attend the Nevada County Transportation Commission meeting, at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Board of Supervisors Chambers. This could be a great project if the Caltrans bully would only listen to the people.

Phil Carville lives in Nevada County.

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