Our View: We need compromise on Highway 174 project
November 10, 2017
There are a couple of unhappy truths we must realize about the Highway 174 improvement project.
First, some form of this project is happening. It's not going to disappear, and Caltrans won't go gentle into that good night.
This isn't to say people upset over this proposal should keep their mouths shut. Far from it. But they should realize that Caltrans says it will, to some degree, realign and widen an almost two-mile stretch of this road between Maple Way and You Bet Road.
The second unhappy truth is for Caltrans: The project, as currently envisioned, isn't going to happen. Our community won't stand for an arguably scenic highway getting hammered into a straight line.
There's going to be some compromise. Both sides just have to recognize this truth, meet at the negotiating table and hash it out.
There are plenty of good reasons for Caltrans to reassess this project. It would mar a beautiful view of our county, remove trees and — with a long, straightened highway — potentially make a great spot to drag race.
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Having said this, there's a problem with this part of the road. Thirty collisions happened between April 2010 and March 2013 in this stretch of highway. Injuries happened in 18 of them and two had fatalities, Caltrans has said.
We can argue over the viability of these statistics and whether they should be used at all. There's also a good argument to make about spending serious cash on improving Highway 49 between north Auburn and Grass Valley instead of this little bit of pavement on 174.
None of these arguments will likely sway Caltrans, which has said that when it identifies measures it can implement to increase safety, it builds them. A Caltrans project manager in June said that the state could be liable if it did nothing.
We're at a point where all the arguments, all the cards, have been placed on the table. Here's how they should be played:
The Save Highway 174 group must continue to push for meetings with Caltrans and seek compromise. The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution urging Caltrans to re-evaluate the project, noting it could threaten a chance for the road to get a State Scenic Highway designation.
The highway group should get a county representative at any meeting with Caltrans. Prioritize parts of the two-mile stretch that must remain unchanged. Budge on the areas where line-of-sight cries for improvement.
Caltrans could take some notes from improvements made years ago on Highway 49. The addition of rumble strips, additional striping and more California Highway Patrol officers handing out tickets helped over there. Could they, along with signs informing motorists of a winding road ahead, improve Highway 174 without downing as many trees or realigning what's currently planned?
It's worth spending the time to discover that truth.
Some will continue to argue that Highway 174 should remain unchanged. We know that's not viable, because Caltrans has said it will make improvements.
Instead we should identify realistic changes to the project that will increase safety and maintain the beauty of this area — true compromise where no one gets entirely what the want, but everybody gets a little taste of it.
And once we get that, like the vehicles traveling on 174, let's move on.
The weekly Our View column represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members.
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