Highway 99 hit by the ugly stick

Safety upgrade comes with high costs—financially and esthetically

Things are going to get ugly along the Highway 99 freeway in Chico—and will stay that way in perpetuity. That’s because Caltrans is going to start a three-year construction project in a few days that will make a mess of the freeway—and, when it’s done, leave that stretch of the highway forever ugly.

Officially, it’s a safety upgrade of the mile-long section of freeway between Highway 32 and East First Avenue, which Caltrans says is getting too crowded. The plan is to add a third lane in both directions. To do this, the agency will remove all the trees that now grow in the median and build a new section of freeway there, with the two sides of the highway separated by a concrete barrier.

Caltrans is also going to add 14-foot-high sound walls on both sides of the freeway.

From the ground—say, driving along Vallombrosa—it will look like a huge, elevated concrete box. If you’re passing beneath it in the park, it will look somewhat like a tunnel. And if you’re driving on the freeway, the park will no longer be visible from the road. It will be like driving in a concrete chute.

“You can call it a sound wall,” Councilman Jim Walker said during last week’s council meeting. “I call it an eyesore.”

It’s also a done deal, decided back in 2004. At the time Caltrans offered basically two choices: expand the freeway inward or expand it outward, leaving the gap but impinging on neighboring residents’ back yards.

Early on, there were some people—Mayor Ann Schwab, then a member of the park commission, among them—who said it shouldn’t be expanded either way. Instead, motorists should be required just to slow down, to 45 miles per hour, say. After all, it’s only a mile.

Cost of the current project: $26 million. Cost of a lower speed limit: nada.

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Last week the Chico Enterprise-Record’s Larry Mitchell interviewed Rep. Wally Herger to the effect that—as the piece’s headline had it—“Partisan politics [are] killing Congress.”

No sooner had Herger given lip service to the lack of bipartisanship, however, than he started blaming Democrats for it.

Then he started telling falsehoods. President Obama proposed a budget with no cuts, he complained. Oh yeah? What about Obama’s offer to cut $4 trillion in spending in return for $1.2 billion in new revenues? That’s the deal Speaker John Boehner walked away from.

Then Herger said “entitlements”—Social Security and Medicare—make up 57 percent of the budget. Since when? According to the Congressional Budget Office, those two categories plus Medicaid make up 43 percent of the budget. Shouldn’t a congressman have his facts straight?

Here’s another doozie, from a recent Herger press release: “President Obama has spent the his [sic] Administration enacting policies that have added more debt to our nation than the previous 43 presidents combined.” I’m reminded of the time he said health-care reform was “a government takeover.” Where does he get this stuff? I think he just makes it up.