[UPDATE 6:30 p.m.] Is Bell Springs Road Open? Can Anyone Tell People Not to Drive a Public Road? We’ve Got Answers
On April 20, Humboldt and Mendocino Counties decided to close not only Bell Springs Road but other local alternatives to Hwy 101 since the slide blocked the highway six miles north of Leggett at Bridges Creek.
Prior to this, many travelers had been driving Bell Springs Road. GPS and Google Maps had been rerouting people through this area. The south end is between Leggett and Laytonville. The north end is Alderpoint Road east of Garberville. This route allows drivers to circumvent the slide. Unfortunately, the road is mostly unpaved, is narrow with potholes, and has been damaged by storms and the large number of vehicles (including semi trucks) that have been traveling over it. Many people who live on Bell Springs Road are unhappy that their rural route is clogged with people who don’t know how to drive on a dirt road. Multiple accidents have happened and locals are increasingly frustrated by having to rescue people stuck in the middle of nowhere.
On April 20, when we spoke to Officer William Wunderlich of the Garberville California Highway Patrol, he said that Bell Springs Road was still open. However, he said, according to the Street and Highways’ Code the County Road Commissioners could “restrict the use of or close any county highway whenever such closing or restriction is necessary for the protection of the public, the protection of the county highway during storms or during construction improvement or maintenance operations.”
The Director of Mendocino County Dept of Transportation, Howard Dashiell then told us during a phone interview, “We’ve been in conversations with Humboldt and we are contemplating closing traffic to locals only.” He said that Bell Springs Road was “being damaged from this kind of traffic.”
“My goal,” said Dashiell, “is to see the people who live on Bell Springs Road not lose the road. They need the road… If we let the road fall apart so no one can use it, then the people who absolutely must use it, the people who live in the area will be the most impacted. When travelers have to turn around, it is an inconvenience but, if Bell Springs Road becomes too damaged, then the local residents are terribly impacted.
This afternoon, Humboldt and Mendocino issued press releases about the situation. Humboldt’s says,
On Sunday, April 16th, a rock slide six miles north of Leggett in northern Mendocino County forced the closure of Highway 101. The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) has not provided an update on when Highway 101 may re-open, but at this time it is estimated to remain closed through the weekend.
Several local roads have been utilized as detours around the slide and the heavy traffic and wet weather have caused rapid deterioration in the road conditions, multiple traffic accidents, and stuck vehicles. This is a reminder to the traveling public that Bell Springs Road is not an alternate route for the Highway 101 closure between Piercy and Leggett. Bell Springs Road is closed to through traffic, and only open to local necessary and essential traffic. Law enforcement officials will request proof/explanation of your need to be in the area (i.e. driver’s license, bill with address, work order for the area, etc.)
“I understand this is a frustrating situation, but we must act in the interest of ‘safety first,’” said Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennel. “I have seen numerous postings on social media from individuals who are not familiar enough with Bell Springs Road to travel it safely, adding to the danger of this rural road. In addition, I know locals are feeling the impact of the increased traffic on an already compromised rural road. We ask for your patience and understanding during this time, and remind you to travel safely.”
In addition, the following roads are not alternate routes for the Highway 101 closure and could be closed to through traffic if necessary to maintain functionality for essential services to local residents: Usal Road (Whitehorn area), Briceland Thorn Road (Whitehorn area), Mina Road (Covelo), Zenia Bluff Road (Covelo), or Hoagland Road (Covelo).
Until Highway 101 is sufficiently cleared, officials on scene will make the final decision regarding who may travel on Bell Springs Road. The current recommended alternative route is Highway 36, Highway 299, Highway 20, and Interstate 5 to avoid the closure. Please check with CalTrans for additional updates or alternate routes. Road Conditions: (www.dot.ca.gov) or 1-800-427-7623 (ROAD).
UPDATE 6:30 p.m.: CHP Garberville posted on their Facebook page,
Since the slide that’s closed U.S. Highway 101 earlier this week, travelers have taken Bell Springs Road to travel around the closure. As a result of the heavy traffic and continued winter storms, road conditions on Bell Springs Road have deteriorated. There have been several collisions and vehicles have become disabled with roadside services unable to reach them in a timely manner.
The California Highway Patrol in coordination with local transportation departments has determined that the safest action for the public would be to close Bell Springs Road to through traffic and restrict travel to necessary and essential local traffic. Officers will be staffing the closures of Bell Springs Road and citizens should be prepared to provide proof/explanation of your need to be in the area to Officers at the closures. Proof can include but is not limited to: driver’s license or registration card/ utility bill with address, work order for the area, etc.
Currently the alternate routes of travel for passenger vehicles and light trucks are State Route 36 and State Route 20. The current alternate routes of travel for larger commercial vehicles are State Route 20 and State Route 299.
Additionally the following roads are NOT alternate routes for the US Highway 101 closure: Usal Rd., Mina Rd., Zenia Bluff Rd., Hoagland Rd., Briceland Thorn Rd.