A number of Olancha residents are still seething over how Caltrans has handled the four-lane project through their town and property. Citizens asked for a public meeting on the Caltrans plan, but on Monday Caltrans Director Tom Hallenbeck sent a letter to the Inyo Local Transportation Commission to say there will be no meeting until the final environmental document is done.
After many years of public meetings on five alternatives, Caltrans Director Hallenbeck created a new alternative which he says is a combination of alternatives 3 and 4 with a four-lane highway around Olancha to the west, over the Los Angeles Aqueduct and back out through Cartago.
Those who own land and businesses in Olancha and Cartago say the new alternative was created without public input. Land owner Jeffrey Bohl of Olancha said of the Caltrans plan, “It has no link to the public.” Bohl said the new alternative will by-pass Olancha with major impacts on the community and on the land to the west where people like to recreate. “How would Bishop feel,” said Bohl, “if suddenly their town were bypassed and their recreation land interrupted by a four-lane highway?”
Bohl and others believe the four-lane could be done on the East with far fewer impacts and use of the existing two lanes for a lot less money. Bohl wants to know why Caltrans would mothball the current highway, and spend up to $60 million more on an 8 to 12 mile highway to the West when the State nears bankruptcy,
Bohl also has concern that Inyo County’s Planning Department has no plan for the future of Southern Inyo. Bohl said, “Southern Inyo has a right to grow like anyone else.”
Bohl also points to $4 to $6 million Caltrans may have spent on environmental studies on the new alternative that he says they failed to disclose to the public. Said Bohl, “It smells like special interest all the way. We need to have a meeting now.”
We placed a call to Caltrans Director Hallenbeck, but he was out of town and unavailable for comment. We hope to speak with him next week.