If you're in a big hurry to build a road project, environmental review can get in the way. As Bill Fulton reports in this month's Insight column, the state budget pact exempted eight Caltrans projects from the California Environmental Quality Act so that they get built quicker. But some folks in Tehama County are saying, "Hey, wait a second"

One of the exempt projects is on Highway 99 in Los Molinos, a small, unincorporated Tehama County community in the almond and pecan orchards between Red Bluff and Chico. Highway 99 is a two-lane highway in these parts. The speed limit south of Los Molinos is 65 mph; to the north, the limit is 55 mph. But the highway is the main drag and commercial corridor in Los Molinos. It's where the town's grocery store, pharmacy, gas stations, bank, post office, hardware store, restaurants and churches are located. The speed limit in town is 35 mph, but many motorists cruise through at 45-plus mph.

Caltrans plans a significant traffic calming project to slow motorists passing through Los Molinos and make the situation safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Caltrans's project calls for building an island at both ends of town, a traffic signal, curb, gutter and sidewalks, and a crosswalk with pedestrian-activated warning lights. I envision something like Highway 299 through Willow Creek in Humboldt, a marvelous traffic calming project completed several years ago. Willow Creek

Willow Creek, on Highway 299.


But as the Red Bluff Daily News reports, not everyone is satisfied with the Los Molinos project plan. The Chamber of Commerce suggests one aspect of the project could make the situation more hazardous.

I don't know if the Chamber's concern is warranted. I do know that this project could be the biggest thing to happen in economically depressed Los Molinos in decades. If Caltrans had to complete an environmental review of the project, we might get some answers to the Chamber's concern. Because of the exemption signed by the governor, we apparently won't know until after the project is built.

– Paul Shigley