Willits Bypass Project Update

Construction started in February 2013. For more information, see also:
Caltrans' project web page
Caltrans' project news

November 22, 2016: Executive Director Dow provided a summary of the bypass opening ceremonies for the Council's December meeting, with aerial photos courtesy of Caltrans.
MCOG staff report
October 27, 2016: Construction is now 99% complete. Mitigations and other "child projects" are still in progress. Caltrans' opening ceremony is scheduled for November 3, 2016; members of MCOG's staff and board will attend. Congratulations to all involved with bringing this work to fruition!

December 1, 2014: At its meeting Monday, December 1, the Mendocino Council of Governments unanimously approved Caltrans’ request to commit a share of funds to cover increased costs to complete construction of the U.S. 101 Bypass of Willits project. MCOG’s share, at the long-established rate of 15 percent, is approximately $9,705,000.

With all members present the Council deliberated, and heard several public comments, for over 90 minutes before taking action. Caltrans District 1 Director Charlie Fielder answered numerous questions. It was generally agreed that this was a tough decision made at the expense of other planned projects in Mendocino County; however, the magnitude of the issue and the Council’s long standing commitment outweighed other options.

Caltrans will request an allocation of $55 million from the California Transportation Commission at its December 10 meeting in Riverside. This amount is intended to cover remaining construction costs to project completion. The projected shortfall was calculated based on statistical analysis in a Risk Management Plan prepared by Caltrans. All available contingency funds have been expended. Cost increases are a result of various factors including delays, lawsuits, protests, CHP enforcement, and environmental requirements, as well as change orders that are typical of any large construction project.

“Early on there was a strong commitment to getting this project done and that hasn’t wavered,” stated 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches, in his last act on the MCOG Board. “We as a Council need to support it—the representatives of the County and four cities agree, even if it means putting off other projects. We are partners with Caltrans and should honor that. It’s important to send a strong message to the CTC.” Larry Stranske, City of Willits, seconded and Pinches' motion carried unanimously on roll call vote.

Details in MCOG’s 12/1/2014 agenda packet, Item #7

May 7, 2013: At its meeting in Los Angeles, the CTC voted unanimously to approve a $30,986,000 allocation for the wetland/riparian Mitigation, Monitoring and Endowment program. In a separate action, the Commission also approved a requested delay of the Ryan Creek/Coho Salmon Mitigation project construction for two years. Caltrans District 1 Director Fielder explained the purpose of the delay is to synchronize the timing of this project with the other related mitigation projects, so that important elements of the overall mitigation program will be consistent. "To offset the project’s impacts to 80 acres of wetlands, Caltrans will provide compensatory wetlands mitigation in the Little Lake Valley at a 15:1 ratio. In addition to the more than 1,200 acres of wetland compensation, over 140 acres of riparian habitat will be established and rehabilitated, totaling over 10 miles of improved streamside habitat for salmon and steelhead," states Caltrans' press release dated today. Read more
September 5, 2012: "EUREKA – Caltrans announced today that the construction contract to build the first phase of the Willits Bypass has been awarded to the partnership of DeSilva Gates Construction and Flatiron West Inc., for the amount of $107 million..." Read Caltrans' press release

March 30, 2012: At its meeting yesterday in Orinda, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) unanimously voted to allocate $135.5 million to complete Phase 1 of the U.S. 101 Bypass of Willits project. Of this amount, over $20 million came from Regional Improvement Program shares committed by Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG)... [read press release]
MCOG staff report

February 16, 2012: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the required "404" permit for Caltrans to construct and operate the U.S. 101 bypass of Willits, within the CTC's 20-month extension for funding consideration, clearing a major hurdle for the project. The following Tuesday, February 21, the permit was fully executed by Caltrans and the Corps, so the project now can be delivered as scheduled to the CTC at their February 22-23 meeting. (In transportation programming language, the term “delivered” means that a project is ready to receive an allocation of funds). The next step is a funding allocation request at the California Transportation Commission's March 28-29 meeting.
USACOE press release

November 4, 2010: The CTC approved Caltrans' request for a 20-month extension of the project's STIP allocation.
On October 4, 2010, Caltrans determined to apply for a 20-month extension of this State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) project, in order to continue work on securing necessary permits. The California Transportation Commission (CTC) will consider the request at its regular meeting on November 4. CTC meeting agendas

September 1, 2010: Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ San Francisco District office declined to issue a permit for Caltrans to construct a freeway bypass around Willits. All other required permits are in hand. $126 million of federal and state construction funds for the project are contingent on permit approval, so the Corps’ lack of action effectively halts the project. The Corps took no action on Caltrans’ application for the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, leaving the door open to complete a remaining checklist of requirements.

Phil Dow, MCOG’s Executive Director, sees three possible scenarios. The best case would entail the California Transportation Commission (CTC) approving a time extension to complete the studies and reapply for funds, delaying construction until mid-2012 if successful. The next best case would be that the bypass funds are reallocated, delaying construction five or six more years. In the worst scenario, Caltrans would not be able to obtain the necessary permit, or else the CTC would decide to redirect the funding elsewhere, in which case “the project would be truly dead.” Dow said, “There have been a lot of resources already directed toward this project, so I hope this will not be the case.”

MCOG Press Release

At its regular meeting on June 30, 2010, the California Transportation Commission approved, by unanimous vote, the allocation of $126.2 million to “construct a freeway by-pass on Route 101 near the city of Willits,” conditional upon Caltrans obtaining the necessary environmental permits from the applicable resource agencies, by the end of August.

Funds are to be encumbered before the end of the federal fiscal year in September. Caltrans will be completing existing conditions studies of habitat mitigation properties recently acquired in the Little Lake Valley, as required for remaining permit approval.

The funding allocation includes $17.3 million programmed by MCOG in 1998 from its regional share of state highway capital improvement funds.

Caltrans District 1 project webpages

CTC meeting agendas
CTC agenda item documents

Caltrans District 1 has prepared a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report, signed by the District Director on November 30, 2009. Comments must be received by January 15, 2010 in order to be included in the Final Supplemental EIR. Send written comments to:

California Department of Transportation
Attn. Jeremy Ketchum, Office of Environmental Management
2800 Gateway Oaks Drive
Sacramento, CA 95833

Contact information: Jeremy Ketchum, Senior Environmental Planner, (916) 274-0621, or
Dave Kelley, Project Manager, (530) 741-5408.

For current information, see the Caltrans District 1 website for the Willits Bypass project. Refer to "Project Details" at the menu sidebar.

Meanwhile, MCOG continues to address project updates on its Board of Directors agendas. For MCOG agendas and meeting minutes, refer to MCOG Meetings on this website.

Letter to the Editor, The Willits News dated June 26, 2007 - "I would like to extend our appreciation to all those concerned citizens who recently wrote letters to the California Transportation Commission in support of the U.S. 101 Bypass of Willits. Approximately 500 letters of support were received by the Commission from Willits, Brooktrails and beyond..." - signed Phillip J. Dow, Executive Director.

The first phase of the four-lane U.S. 101 Bypass of Willits is now funded, so this project can proceed toward construction in 2010. In a unanimous vote of the California Transportation Commission (CTC) on Thursday, June 7, 2007, the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) 2006 Augmentation was approved as recommended by CTC staff. The program includes $60 million of Interregional Transportation Improvement Program (ITIP) funds, adding to all fu"nds previously programmed for the bypass. No further funds were required from MCOG as the regional partner. Next steps are continuation of design, acquisition of right-of-way (which is fully funded), and environmental mitigation.

According to MCOG Executive Director Phil Dow, benefits of the phased project include:

• Acquisition of the full four-lane right-of-way is included
• Little Lake Valley property owners who are in the path of the right-of-way can get out of limbo. The speculation can end and the adjustments to peoples’ lives can move forward
• There will be a certain level of traffic congestion relief in Willits by 2014; certainly relief from most trucks
• Willits can proceed with their many plans to improve the downtown and provide better circulation within the community
• Plans to proceed with a second access to Brooktrails can go forward
• Air quality and pedestrian/bicycle safety will improve through Willits
• Economic benefits will accrue in the county as a whole and in Willits; every construction dollar creates about $6 of economic benefits as it circulates through the economy
• Conversations with the Project Manager reveal that he is proceeding with a two-lane interchange at the north end of the project – not an at-grade intersection (that we have opposed in our comments to Director Kempton)
• At this point, we are not being asked to participate with another share of our regional (RIP) funding
• If there is still a chance of capturing CMIA funding from failed projects, we will be in position to do so only if work on this project continues
• MCOG can begin to turn its attention toward other major transportation issues in Mendocino County.

Although safety and other concerns remain unresolved, MCOG's Board of Directors unanimously supported the first phase at their meeting of June 4, with the intent that their concerns will be worked out over time.

Letter from MCOG Board to Caltrans Director Kempton dated May 10, 2007. "The Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG) met on May 7, 2007, and had its first opportunity to discuss the Caltrans/CTC proposal for a staged improvement of the U.S. 101 bypass of Willits..."


On April 4, 2007, Caltrans District 1 convened a special meeting at the City of Willits council chambers. Visiting dignitaries included California Transportation Commission Chair James Ghielmetti, Commissioner Bob Alvarado, CTC Executive Director John Barna, and Caltrans Director Will Kempton.

Invited guests included MCOG Executive Director Phil Dow, local elected officials, legislative district representatives, city staff members, and Willits Bypass design engineers. District 1 project manager John Bulinski chaired the meeting, which was open to the public.

The purpose of the meeting was to "summarize the statues of the Willits Bypass project and explore possible options for phasing the project" and to "gather public input."

District 1 proposed a first-phase project alternative with a full freeway interchange at the southern end of the bypass route for a Route 20 exit, transition to two lanes, several bridges, a shortened section of viaduct over the flood plain, and a two-lane roundabout intersection at the north end.

In lieu of the hoped-for bond funds, Caltrans Director Will Kempton described available funding sources and indicated that he would seek funds from Caltrans' Interregional Transportation Improvement Program (ITIP) to augment the existing bypass funding, with the goal of building a first phase of the project. He emphasized that the project would be in competition with statewide needs, so no promises could be made.

Afterward, the group was led on a "field review" of the bypass route. A more thorough report of the meeting will be posted to this site when available.


MCOG Press Release dated March 5, 2007. "At its regular meeting today, Mendocino Council of Governments considered how best to react to the California Transportation Commission’s rejection, in a blatantly political move, of MCOG’s top project and the Commission’s own staff’s recommendation..."


The CMIA Program adopted by the California Transportation Commission at their meeting of Wednesday, February 28, 2007 is available on the CTC website at http://www.catc.ca.gov/ (refer to “Highlights”). Although CTC staff continued to recommend funding for the Willits Bypass through their final revisions on Monday, the project was eliminated from the funding list by vote of the Commissioners.


MCOG Press Release dated February 20, 2007. "On Friday, February 16, the California Transportation Commission released its initial staff recommendations on applications for Proposition 1B bond funds within the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA) program. The Willits Bypass project is recommended for funding at $177 million..."


On January 12, 2007, Executive Director Phil Dow submitted the project nomination for Corridor Mobility Improvement Account funding, as directed by MCOG's Board of Directors.
Cover letter


MCOG Press Release dated January 10, 2007. At its January 8 meeting, after hearing both supporters testifying strongly in favor and a vocal minority objecting to the project, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to adopt the resolution "Endorsing the Willits Bypass Project as the Candidate for Funding Under the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA)." Resolution


The U.S. 101 bypass of Willits is the region’s top priority project. MCOG is a funding partner with Caltrans. A description of the project can be found at the Caltrans District 1 website.


The Environmental Impact Report has been completed after 14 years of environmental review, public comment, and response to comments. The EIR requires a mitigation plan that Caltrans District 1 will implement. Copies of the EIR are available from Jeremy Ketchum, Project Environmental Branch Chief in Sacramento, at (916) 274-0621, and may also be viewed at the County public library or online at District 1.


Upon completion of the environmental phase, Caltrans may proceed with right-of-way acquisition, which is fully funded. The design phase is well underway with identification of the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA), the route alternative named “Modified J1T.”


The construction phase is partially funded to date. MCOG and Caltrans are seeking remaining construction funds needed from Proposition 1B bonds under the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA) program of the California Transportation Commission (CTC). The CTC’s adopted CMIA guidelines may be viewed at http://www.catc.ca.gov/ (refer to “Highlights”).


Executive Director Phil Dow’s letter to City of Willits for their Council meeting of December 13, 2006 summarizes status of the project and responds to some local concerns.


The MCOG Board of Directors met January 8, 2007 to take action on the proposed application for CMIA funds. Agenda


Materials for Agenda #6a - Technical Advisory Committee Recommendations of December 20, 2006: Adoption of Resolution No. M2007-__ Endorsing the Willits Bypass Project as the Candidate for Funding Under the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA):

Staff Report
Draft Resolution

Issue Papers by Executive Director Dow:

#1 - Quick History of Willits Bypass Funding
#2 - Partnership Under SB 45
#3 - Route Concept for Route 101 Corridor
#4 - U.S. 101 Traffic Volumes in Willits & Vicinity
#5 - Level of Service
#6 - Willits Bypass Funding Strategy/Economic Analysis Study
#7 - Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA) Program
#8 - Willits Bypass Project Responsiveness to CMIA Guidelines
#9 - Two-Lane Bypass Proposal

Executive Director Phil Dow’s letter to Willits City Council dated December 8, 2006
U.S. EPA letter dated 12-11-2006 in response to Final Environmental Impact Statement
Brooktrails Township C.S.D. letter dated 12-14-2006 in response to Final Environmental Impact Statement
Willits Economic LocaLization letter to Willits City Council dated 11-20-2006
Executive Director Phil Dow’s response dated 12-15-2006 to WELL letter

Caltrans District 1 Draft CMIA Application dated 12-29-2006:

Fact Sheet - Summary
Project Nomination Package
STIP Nomination Sheet
Benefit-Cost Analysis (note this document is being updated)
Corridor Management Plan - Work Plan
Corridor Management Plan - Route 101: Golden Gate-Oregon Border

Back to MCOG Home Page

Photos by J. Orth
Top: Bypass viaduct under construction, April 2016
Above: Traffic on Main Street-101 and Route 20 in central Willits
Bottom: Traffic backed up on South Main Street-101 looking south from the hospital at Madrone Street.