Schools are out, summer is here, and the Willits Bypass is successfully handling the extra traffic during its first summer of use. The long traffic backlogs and delays which have been the norm for decades have not reappeared. The April traffic counts show that on average more than 4,000 vehicles per day are using the bypass and not creating the previously reoccurring congestion in downtown Willits. As summer traffic peaks even higher the bypass is anticipated to continue to easily handle the traffic.
“The California Highway Patrol is extremely pleased with the efficiency of having the Willits Bypass,” said CHP Lieutenant Randy England, Garberville Area commander. “We have seen the impact of safer roadways and less congestion during busy weekends.” Those busy weekends so far this year have included Memorial Day, the Redwood Run, as well as Humboldt State University’s graduation. In the past CHP would have added extra officers in the Willits area during these weekends, manually directing drivers to keep traffic moving during severe backups. Thus far, there has been no need for traffic control assistance.
The Willits Bypass, first envisioned in the 1950s, and initiated as a project in 1989, is the longest running project in Caltrans, District 1. The total cost for the bypass and the associated mitigation, improvement, and relinquishment projects is about $450 million, and includes the most extensive mitigation in Caltrans history that will improve the environment of the Little Lake Valley for decades to come.
While the bypass project is complete, the associated projects continue. The main mitigation project continues to progress, and has completed more than 52 acres of wetlands establishment, 60 acres of invasive plant removal (using mechanical and manual means, no herbicides used), 19 stream crossings have been repaired and enhanced, and more than 800,000 native plants have been planted.
Fish passage improvement projects at Ryan Creek and Upp Creek have recently started construction. Two legs of Ryan Creek which pass under U.S. Highway 101 will have the existing culverts replaced with natural bottom culverts which do not impede fish, and the existing culvert at Upp Creek on the old 101 alignment will be replaced with a bridge. These creeks are headwaters of the Eel River, and miles of fisheries habitat will be reopened for threatened Coho Salmon. Both projects are anticipated to be completed this year.
A project adding sidewalks in front of Willits High School to provide improved access for pedestrians is under construction and is anticipated to be completed this year. Two additional projects, the Sherwood Road intersection improvement and the relinquishment project through downtown Willits, will begin next spring and are anticipated to be completed by the end of next year.