More than $400 million in funding has been approved for the Highway 70 Safety Improvement Project focused on expanding the highway between Oroville and Marysville. Opponents – a group of concerned District 10 residents – say the project will make things worse and are adamant that a bypass is the safest route to take.

“There has to be a better way than to ruin historic homes, negatively impact agriculture that is growing the majority of crops in Yuba County, help the flow of traffic get to their destinations, and keep everyone safe,” said Pam Shaver, a District 10 resident whose home, which was built in 1911 and has been in the family ever since, will likely be affected by the project. 

Plans currently call for three safety improvement projects in Yuba County worth about $289.8 million – a widening of the highway between Laurellen Road to the county line (including a middle, two-way left turn lane and wider shoulders), a new Simmerly Slough Bridge and a road widening project between the train trestles in front of Marysville High School. 

Funding for those projects has already been set aside by the California Transportation Commission, but Caltrans is working to acquire another $36 million to further widen the area between Laurellen to the county line to make five lanes.

The California Transportation Commission has been working toward expanding Highway 70 since 1990. The commission wanted to create a continuous highway system that connected Sacramento to Chico, so it focused on Highway 70 and Highway 99 – ultimately choosing the former as the preferred alignment.

Potential impacts

The current plans to add a continuous left-turn lane in the center of Highway 70 and wider shoulders will likely affect Shaver’s well and septic system, she said, meaning the value of her family’s historic home goes with it. Further widening the road would be even worse, she said, but not just for her.

“The future plan for five lanes virtually turns Highway 70 into a freeway. This not only affects the historic homes along the way, but 200-plus driveways and access points, severely impacts the 50 farms and agricultural businesses, changing forever the peaceful atmosphere of rural lifestyle with giant oak shade trees, beautiful blossoming orchard trees and fruit stands along the way,” Shaver said. 

Caltrans maintains that the project is focused on improving the safety of Highway 70 for motorists. Thirteen deaths occurred on Highway 70 in Butte County in 2017, bringing the total number of deaths between Oroville and Marysville to 35 since 2010.

District 3 Director Amarjeet Benipal said in a March 8 letter to the District 10 community that the accidents that triggered the safety project include rear-end collisions, vehicles driving off the road and hitting stationary objects, and cross centerline accidents.

But members of the Keep 70 Safe committee don’t think widening the road will help. District 10 resident Pamela Warmack said additional lanes will result in increased speeds, as well as more traffic, meaning it will be more dangerous for local residents and businesses to enter and exit the road, especially on foggy days. Also, more vehicles means more pollution, which brings with it health diseases for those living and working near the roadway, she said.

“When we first started, this was about them not taking our farms and houses, but as we’ve done more research we started seeing the full impact of this proposal, and how it’s so far reaching. If residents in Marysville or the foothills knew; if they realized this wasn’t the best answer, then we are hoping people will speak up against it,” Warmack said.

Members of the committee have met with Caltrans representatives and have worked on modifications to decrease the width in areas to reduce the impact on local residents, Warmack said. However, she said, the point the committee has attempted to get across is that there is a safer alternative that would relieve virtually all of the issues District 10 residents have regarding the project.

“We need a Marysville bypass, not a wider Highway 70,” Shaver said.

The Keep 70 Safe committee urges anyone interested in learning more about their concerns to contact them via Facebook (@keep70safe) or by calling 548-5233.

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