Caltrans studied more than one route which could have used the railroad corridor, but they were not feasible for the following reasons:
- The railway through Willits was, and still is, considered an active railway. The North Coast Railroad Authority has never abandoned the line, so Caltrans would be required to relocate the tracks along another route.
- The impacts to homes and businesses would have been very high because it would have needed to be a four-lane project (see previous question). Many businesses and over 140 residential units would have needed to be removed.
- This would not have met the project objectives due to at least five at-grade intersections which would have required traffic signals.
- The Willits section of the historic Northwestern Pacific Railroad meets the eligibility criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Caltrans spent years evaluating many potential routes. Only 4-lane routes could be considered due to a Federal Highway Administration requirement that all new highway projects must have at least a 20-year service life providing a level of service (LOS) of at least “C”. The impact of removing many businesses and over 140 residential units would have been massive to the community. Traffic noise and air pollution would have simply been moved a few blocks to the east. The alternative to five intersections would have meant closing most east-west streets which cross the tracks and would have split Willits into two communities, impacting bicycle and pedestrian traffic from one side of town to the other.
The current plan is the best available which balances the needs of regional traffic, the local Willits community, and the environmental and economic impacts.