Willits Bypass FAQs

Common questions and misconceptions

Last updated 11/25/2014

There are lot of questions, misconceptions, and misinformation circulating about the Willits Bypass Project.  Here are some points Caltrans would like to clarify.  They are listed in no particular order of importance.   This list will continue to grow as needed.

I heard there will be herbicide spraying on the bypass property.

There will be no herbicides used on the bypass project right of way, but there will be limited use of herbicides on mitigation parcels to eliminate the non-native invasive Himalayan blackberry.

The State is broke – schools and healthcare are underfunded – how can Caltrans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on this bypass?

State and Federal Highway funds cannot be used for programs other than transportation.  They cannot be used for schools, healthcare, or other government programs.

Traffic is down, why is a four-lane bypass still needed?

In order for a new highway project to be approved by the Federal Highways Administration and be compliant with Federal environmental laws, it must address the purpose and need of the project. While working with the Mendocino Council of Governments and other local agencies it was determined that any new highway project along Route 101 in Mendocino County should meet a minimum level of service (LOS) of “C” over a 20-year lifetime. Achieving an LOS of “C” is common for new rural highways, and is considered a reasonable goal. Caltrans calculations in support of our 2006 environmental document determined that a two-lane bypass would only achieve an LOS of “D” over 20 years, but a four-lane bypass would achieve an LOS of “C” or better. Historically there have been large short-term rises and declines in traffic volumes in Willits over the past decades. However, these short-term increases and decreases in traffic volumes are not reliable indicators of what conditions will be over the design life of the roadway. LOS calculations performed again in February 2012 at the request of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers using the most recent traffic data reaffirmed the need for a four-lane bypass.

Won’t the northbound backup at Highway 20 be fixed when Caltrans restripes next year to eliminate the merge to one lane before the railroad tracks?

The restriping will provide some help, but the fact is only 10% of northbound traffic turns left during peak times, so the other 90% will still need to merge into one lane.

How much water will be needed on this huge project, and where is it all coming from?

The concrete for the bridge structures will require about 1.2 million gallons of water.  That may sound like a lot, but it will be spread over several construction seasons, and while city water will not be used, it is actually much less than the 2.2 million gallons the city water plant can produce each day!

The fill will require up to 250-300 thousand gallons per day.  Most, if not all, of that water will be reclaimed/recycled water from the city’s sewer treatment plant.  Any remaining water needs will be drawn from one of several wells on Caltrans right of way or mitigation properties.

Doesn’t the Migratory Bird Treaty Act forbid tree removal during bird nesting season?

To understand this answer one must understand just what the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is, what it covers, and what it requires.  The MBTA was first enacted in 1916 to protect migratory birds in the United States and Canada, and it has been amended many times.  The treaty states that is it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell listed birds.  Currently over 800 species are listed.

It is important to note that the MBTA protects migratory birds and not trees and vegetation.  Caltrans may remove trees and vegetation any time of the year as long as the proper bird survey protocols are observed. Survey protocols are more detailed during the nesting season, and that is why, when it is necessary, Caltrans generally tries to remove trees off-season.

However, no matter what time of the year, surveys are performed which meet the requirements of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which both enforce the MBTA.  Caltrans will continue to work with these agencies to ensure the Willits Bypass Project remains in complete compliance with the MBTA.

Caltrans rejected two-lane alternatives for the bypass, so why are you now building a two-lane bypass?

The Willits Bypass Project is still a four-lane bypass, but it is being built in two phases due to competitive funding with other highway projects. This first phase will build the full four-lane Route 20 interchange on the south end of Willits, two lanes of the north interchange, and the southbound lanes in between. The second phase will be built as soon as additional funding becomes available.

The railroad is no longer using the railroad corridor; why not use it for the bypass?

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.

Why is there no Highway 20 interchange near the center of town planned?

A separate Route 20 interchange was considered but ultimately rejected from the project due to additional wetland impacts, lack of support from local businesses on Route 101 south of Route 20, and impacts to local residents from the required extension of Route 20 to the bypass. This could still be considered in the future if there is enough local support and funding through the Mendocino Council of Governments.

If Caltrans respects the right of those who peacefully protest, why the arrests?

There have been a number of protestors arrested who were trespassing within the construction area, and we feel it is important to highlight some important facts. Caltrans respects the rights of those who peacefully protest, and we have a responsive public input component as part of every major project we develop intended to gather divergent view points. The Willits Bypass project is currently in its construction phase, and we now have a responsibility to conduct a safe work zone. During the development phase of this project, many public input meetings were held with the majority of public comments received in favor of the project.

For any law enforcement situation that occurs within State of California properties, including State Highways and State right-of-way, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) are the peace officers who hold jurisdiction. No matter where it may be in the State, trespassers reported in a construction area would always be handled by the CHP. Law enforcement first began to respond on March 13, and protestors stopped contractor work on two separate occasions, costing the State thousands of dollars in project funding. One week prior to the arrest of tree sitting protestors on April 2, they were presented with the option to come down and leave the construction area without being arrested. For more information regarding specific law enforcement actions in relation to the Willits Bypass, please contact CHP. Again, Caltrans respects  the right to peacefully and lawfully protest, however Willits Bypass project lands are now an active construction zone, and safety is our #1 priority.


  • Access Telemetry Data from the Caltrans water quality monitoring stations installed in the Little Lake Valley.