[UPDATE: Monday] Willits Bypass Cost Over 50% More Than Caltrans Originally Claimed, Says ABC7 News

Aerial view of Willits from Caltrans

Aerial view of the Willits Bypass while it was under construction in 2015. [Photo from Caltrans Facebook page]

Caltrans underreported to the public the costs of the Willits Bypass, claims a story by ABC7 News. “Documents obtained by ABC7 News show Caltrans has been giving out the wrong total cost figures for the Willits Bypass on Highway 101 in Mendocino County for the past five years,” declares the article.

Documents show that the $300 million cost for the project that Caltrans reported was off by over 50%, according to the story. The road actually cost $460 million, says ABC7.

The discrepancy was caused by Caltrans only reporting the cost of the contract for the Bypass and not including the cost of the work done by their own employees. ABC7 quotes Caltrans public information officer Phil Frisbie as saying,

It’s been Caltrans policy since about 2008 when we really started officially saying we need to make sure we include all the support costs because that gives the public really a better idea.

Read the entire article here.  

A recent post on Caltrans blog about the Willits Bypass claims that the new roadway is successfully keeping traffic moving safely in the area in spite of the upswell of vehicles over the summer. The piece quotes CHP Lieutenant Randy England, Garberville Area commander as saying,  “We have seen the impact of safer roadways and less congestion during busy weekends.”

Then the article adds, “In the past CHP would have added extra officers in the Willits area during these weekends, manually directing drivers to keep traffic moving during severe backups. Thus far, there has been no need for traffic control assistance.”

UPDATE Monday: Caltrans District Director Matt Brady’s statement about the cost difference was posted on District 1’s Facebook page. He said,

Although the Willits Bypass is one of the most important interregional projects for the north coast, eliminating delays on U.S. Highway 101 and easing congestion for residents, the project did have its challenges.

Bypass construction costs, including the associated right-of-way, mitigation, and relinquishment projects, did rise to $300 million as protests, permitting issues and bird-nesting season delayed the project. This was previously shared at public California Transportation Commission meetings in 2014 and through press coverage. Support costs including staff and consultants added another $159 million, bringing the total cost to $459 million. 

Those support costs include assessing the environmental impacts of over 30 potential routes, the development of the most extensive and detailed mitigation plan in Caltrans’ history, and then rewriting large sections of that mitigation plan to resolve issues with evolving requirements from permitting agencies.

Caltrans did mistakenly report $300 million as the total cost of the project as part of our opening day ceremony, however, as indicated previously, it only included construction costs, mitigation, etc., which was not the ‘total’ cost, and this was an oversight on our part.


Note: The writer’s husband, father and grandfather work or worked at Caltrans.



  • Good deal! We didn’t want a cheap road anyway. This is going to be chump change when the final figure for the Oroville Dam gets tallied.

  • Gee, it couldn’t have been all the frivolous lawsuits tossed in front of the project could it? How about a court mandated mediation for these projects, give a little, get a little…save us taxpayers a bundle in the end…oh yeah, lawyers need a piece of the action too!

    • Ya think it might have something to do with building an elevated highway across an ancient lake bed, endangered fish, and archaeological sites?

    • no, it could not have been due to “all the frivolous lawsuits.” As the story and Kym explains: this $160 million “increase” in the price of the Willits bypass is strictly a matter of full reporting: for some reason Caltrans did not follow its own policy to include the in-house “support costs” of any project in the total costs of that project that are cited to the public and the press. This has been Caltrans’ policy since 2008, confirms Caltrans District 1 spokesman in the video, and he acknowledges the larger figure should’ve been cited as the cost of the bypass. You should watch the video, and read the story. It’s interesting.
      There’s a back story to how the 2-lane Willits bypass was funded, including the California Transportation Commission’s refusal to fund a full 4-lane bypass in 2010 after a lot of squawking from powerful Bay Area and Los Angeles politicians about funding such an expensive project in such a low-population, rural area.

    • Also have to take the extensive environmental planning reviews and approvals which took over 20 years into consideration. Bureaucrats retired on this planning project. Thank god we have a leader who has the courage to address and solve these issues that are killing this Country.

      • Environmental impact reviews that were ignored. Too bad we have a profoundly ignorant leader who has no understanding or regard for the biosphere.

      • If you mean Agent Orange, then you ARE delusional he cares about the environment for One Reason ONLY!!!! More MONEY!!!! Chop Down the Old Growth Redwoods!!!! They’ll grow back in a few THOUSAND years!!!

    • Veterans friend

      Yes of course, we should have gagged the indigenous who were concerned about their cultural sites and ignored the enviornmentalists who cared about the salmon.
      That was the plan.
      Bless those who did their best to protect our past and ensure our future.

      • If you consider the emission savings created from bypassing the town, this could be ranked the most environmentally friendly project since the creation of the freeway and most likely carbon nuetural in our lifetime. The amount of petroleum that will no longer be consumed by 100’s of thousands of vehicles starting, stopping and idling through the town of Willits yearly will be astronomical. Trace these carbon savings all the way down the production line to the extraction of the petroleum. This bypass was not only benificial for the region but the the Planet. We should use this project as an example of how effeciency can change the world we live in for a better future.

  • About $200 per taxpayer in Ca. What an incredible deal! And, we paid them to drain the largest inland wetland in the state. Win, win!

  • Love the bypass. I almost forget Willits exists now.

    • Patriot in Willits

      I love the bypass too, and everyone in Willits never even knew you existed…

    • Trillium Hummingbird

      Willits? Exists? Huh? Do you exist?

      I buy gas there, and hit the Mackeydoodles. Or get lunch at the hospital, Roots cafe… MMmmmmm, good! Taco Bell! Wow! Willits is COOL!

  • Another example of why Trump won. Only Candidate to address the issues of massive cost over run/delays within Government.

    • So, what is he doing about them, besides making them even bigger???

    • I’m so glad Trump fulfilled his promise of fixing the VA system and taking care of our veterans like he promised would be done in his first 90 days. Oh, I forgot he was a silver spoon draft dodger.

      • I as a Disabled Vet have not I’m so tired of him “Draining the Swamp” then populating it with BIGGER Gators!!!

    • You must be part of the tail that wags the dog

  • Warner Von Braun

    Why pick on the Willets project? Everything the government gets involved in ends up costing more than the estimates. Everything.


    Duh , just look at the road work as you drive by all across the area. Count how many workers standing around as one or two people actually work. Then count how many companies and there equipment sit unused. Big surprise

    • 8:1 is the ratio, one shovel man and 8 guys standing, observing while hands in their pockets,..
      The real question is hiw many sit in an office mismanaging the funds while that one guy digs??

  • If the gov. ran organized crime it wouldn’t pay! Look what it’s done for pot.

  • How does tax money fund an organization that manipulates,lies, and deceives the public??

  • The Willits bypass was conceived to relieve the traveling public of delays caused by HWY 101 being routed through town as Main Street. During peak hours in the summer, traveling north, traffic was backed up from Bechtel Road to the freeway nine miles north of town. Often it took over a half hour to drive through town.

    I guess most do not realize that Caltrans started continuous work on this project in early 1983. The project was revised repeatedly on local concerns and requests. One proposal even wanted to put the “bypass” through Sherwood. Then add in the opposition to ANY bypass. That’s thirty-three years of Caltrans involvement actively working towards a finished roadway. If public concerns were not an issue, the bypass could have been built by the late nineties. Add it up. If you think Caltrans wasted your money, maybe you need to do some research into how roads are designed, funded and built.

    “Government” is the easiest target when blame for inconvenience or expense needs to be fixed. If you think working for Caltrans or working for a construction contractor is easy and just standing around, go for it. I doubt many would be able to stand the 12 hours days in the summer heat and wet winter cold. So go ahead and blame government for all the ills of our world while you sit in the air conditioned comfort of your car and drive along highways built and maintained by big bad government.

    Is sitting in traffic for 45 minutes to get through Willits during the summer better?

    You can always drive through town instead of using the bypass.

    • As Will Rogers said “it is a good thing that we don’t get all the government we pay for”.

      • Rogers was a great humorist. But the notion that the private sector can always do a better job for less money is simply wrong. It has been shown that private sector design contracts cost twice what design costs are for Caltrans to design a project. All major Caltrans construction and repair work is already contracted out to the private sector. Whining about the cost of government is pretty silly in a nation that is self governed.

        • “It has been shown” is a meaningless phrase. Shown by who, Caltrans? The fact that Caltrans “contracts” work to the private sector also proves nothing. Caltrans giving kickbacks to private companies who then fleece the taxpayer right alongside of Caltrans is not an indictment of the private sector. It is an indictment of government and it’s never ending failures. If entire roads were privatized you would NEVER see 8 guys standing around while 1 worked. Currently, EVERYTIME I see Caltrans “workers” that is what’s going on; a whole lot of nothing! Privatization is working all over the world. Government is not. Glad you have a kushy job and all but your propaganda is laughable.



          • Studies done by the state legislature have shown that the costs of contracting out design projects cost over twice as much as it does when Caltrans or other state agencies do the design phase work. The fact that Caltrans contracts out major construction and repair projects is BECAUSE IT IS CHEAPER THAN DOING IT WITH STATE FORCES.

            Now, post proof that Caltrans gives kickbacks to anyone. Contracts are awarded in an OPEN BIDDING process where the lowest proposed bid is in line with the engineer’s estimates in a sealed bid process open to the public.

            As for private roads, all I can say is do some research into the true costs of building and maintaining toll roads.

            Most of those workers you are complaining about are probably working for a private contractor. Caltrans does not repair any stretch of road over a half mile long. All major repair and construction is done by the private sector.

            As far as your anecdotal evidence that everyone on a construction project is simply standing around wasting time, obviously you have never worked on any type of road construction or repair or you wouldn’t make such an absurd statement.

            “Privatization is working all over the world. Government is not. Glad you have a kushy job and all but your propaganda is laughable.”

            I will let this PROPAGANDA circle the bowl before flushing.

            And I am retired after working most of my life.

    • Picchu- Yes! Very well said.

    • Very well said. It takes work to understand reality and most people would rather complain than do the work. It always fascinates me that people don’t understand that additional costs are usually caused by the contractor’s and that private enterprise is usually the reason projects go over budget. Usually when private enterprise takes over government work, yeah it’s cheaper because they don’t meet standards. I doesn’t last as long, may in fact be dangerous and is not cheaper. Ever hear about private contractors losing truck loads of US currency in Iraq. If you think that was a government problem, you are not thinking clearly.

      • The government was in charge of the money that went to Iraq. That is why there was massive corruption; surprise, surprise! Lots of money got “lost” due to phony contracts, kickbacks and every other kind of graft. It always fascinates me when liberals give examples that destroy their own argument and are too blind to see it. The irony tastes like candy. Indeed, “someone” is not thinking clearly.

  • I drive thru willetts whenever I go that direction. Gas is 20 cents cheaper and we always stop for something to eat
    Now CALTRANS have there eye on Richardson grove, I love the grove.
    They should focus on the slide south of Leggett..

  • Now that that ones done,
    Lets get re started on the Eureka bypass!

  • Worth every penny, eureka should be next.

    • The cost of a Eureka bypass would dwarf the cost of the Willitts bypass. Simple cost-benefit analysis says it ain’t gonna happen. A bypass would either have to go through town which would require huge eminent-domain purchases and a significant loss of housing units – imagine the lawsuits – , east of town which would entail eminent domain purchases plus massive amounts of grading and filling to carry the roadbed through hilly terrain, or up the south jetty with a bridge over the mouth of the bay, which would be a major engineering challenge given the sketchy geology and seismic risk.

      • CalTrans tried to build a freeway thru and explored a route around Eureka years ago. The citizens of Eureka fought the idea.

        • Yup, back in the ’70s if I recall correctly. But that ship has pretty much sailed. My guess is that improving the existing road, either by widening it or elevating it, is pretty much the only option at this point.

      • CalTrans has it on its list.

      • Riddley – That was all completed years ago but the citizens of Eureka were able to block it after all the property was purchased. It cost us taxpayers millions because of it.

  • How much it cost is not the important issue here. The wetland they drained to build it is worth all the riches in the Earth’s history.

  • While not discounting the good work they do (which is their ‘job description’)……
    Face it. CalTrans is an out of control agency. Even when economic hard times hit, they just keep (literally) plowing forward on expensive and marginally necessary projects. And our state government don’t dare cut their budget. In fact CalTrans keeps spending in part to justify their budget.
    Thank you Kym for giving exposure to an issue that may be a conflict with your familys’ economy.

    • ALL revenues expended by Caltrans have to be approved at multiple levels of government from local agencies all the way up to the Feds. Caltrans’ budget for construction is governed by the California Transportation Commission, a bipartisan and independent body that approves project priority and funding.

      Saying Caltrans is “out of control,” is simply not true. If you have problems with how transportation money is allocated and spent in this state, write a letter to your state representatives in Sacramento. Much of the criticism aimed at Caltrans for inefficiency and waste starts with politicians, not bureaucrats.

      • …..They are all bought. CalTrans and the Prison union guards are powerful lobbies. Untouchable by any party.
        When people talk about how any agency (government or non-profit) MUST spend it’s allowed money each year in order to continue qualifying for MORE money, CalTrans is a perfect example.
        Plus. On the less financial side of things, CalTrans is caught in an old paradigm of transportation models, clinging to the automobile, and thinking less creatively than people who are truly looking to our collective future. CalTrans should be leading the way with innovation. I don’t expect that from politicians.

        • Can you explain to me how you came by this information that government agencies MUST spend their allotted budgets or face cuts? Indeed, to qualify for more money? This is not how Caltrans or any other agency formulates a budget. Budgets are submitted to the governor but the final decisions are made by politicians.

          Caltrans has been advocating alternative transportation plans for many years. The high speed rail idea in the central valley with a connector to LA and SF for one. Now criticize that idea.

          Why would you expect bureaucrats to lead? By definition, they follow mandates set by POLITICIANS.

          As for the “unions” you mentioned, they aren’t really unions. State employees gave up the right to strike when bargaining units were formed in the late 70s for collective bargaining purposes to negotiate contracts for state workers. As far as their political power goes, it is politicians who give them that power.

          • Hey picchu.

            You sound pretty well informed. When was the last few times that CT had their budget cut by 10% or more? How much was it cut during the Great Recession? And if it was, for how many consecutive years?

            I believe that the bureaucrats are the leaders that the politicians look to for answers – reasoning, facts, figures, knowledge, studies, designs, and historic context. Politicians know they may be a jack(s) of all trades, but certainly are a master of none. Politicians may set the “mandates” but don’t come up with the plans, designs, do the studies, etc. That is done by CT and their pals.

            The CT ‘union’ is strong enough to allow so many of them to be on every work site, often ‘leaning on their shovels’. I am not dissing unions, I belong to one, so I know how it can work. Whether they can strike or not does not a union make.

  • Gov. Brown recently got his fuel and use taxes passed by paying off certain county reps. There were reps totally against increasing those fees, but he invited them to his home, and they left supporting him. One SO Cal county is getting $425 mil shoveled their way for personal road improvements in exchanged for a vote. If I remember, there were 3-4 counties getting big bucks for a change of vote. Wish I had saved the Sac news article that quoted all the figures……sorry.

  • >”…an ancient lake bed…”

    Hmm… Maybe level the town of Willits? They are living on an ‘ancient lake bed’.

    >”The wetland they drained to build it is worth all the riches in the Earth’s history.”

    Good god… Just wait a while… earth warming/global sea level rise will create more new wetland than you ever thought possible.

    >”… gagged the indigenous who were concerned about their cultural sites”

    Everyplace on the earth has had living people… If you declared an ‘archaeological’ site everywhere people had lived… civilized life on the planet would come to a halt.

    >”Is sitting in traffic for 45 minutes to get through Willits during the summer better? ”

    Nope. Bypass has far Less pollution for the people living there… and less frustration for motorists on the way through. Globally saves carbon emissions too.

    >”The cost of a Eureka bypass would dwarf the cost of the Willitts bypass. Simple cost-benefit analysis says it ain’t gonna happen”

    Eureka made a huge (massive) mistake when they allowed ‘strip mall’ commercial development along Broadway… with no other access than 101.

    • I feel the ‘Railroad Ave’ option would have worked at considerable cost savings, nevertheless, it is convenient and the $$$$ was spent here in California for the most part.

  • ONLY $14,766.30 Per Foot!

    5.9 miles = 31152 Feet

    460,000,000 / 31152


    • Or, saving 45 minutes per trip, it’s only $10 million per minute. That’s better, init?

    • Cheap. No wonder CA built no roads since 1970…

      • Safe Space Inspector

        Nice try with your guess:
        “SR 85 was built in two phases: the first, comprising the northern half, runs 5.7 miles from Stevens Creek Boulevard near Interstate 280 to its northern terminus at US 101 in Mountain View, was built in the 1960s. The second half, running 18.5 miles from US 101 in southern San Jose to Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino, remained unbuilt until the 1980s and was opened in 1994.”

  • >”ONLY $14,766.30 Per Foot!”


    They had to do most of the freeway ‘overhead’ to avoid damaging “indigenous who were concerned about their cultural sites and ignored the enviornmentalists who cared about the salmon”… and to avoid… “The wetland they drained to build it is worth all the riches in the Earth’s history.”

  • Well, no matter WHAT the cost, it is nice to be able to blow by Willits if desired. I think they probably could have afforded to put in an exit for hiway 20, or to the hospital, but maybe later. Probably didn’t want to be tied up in court for another 30 years…

    I like Willits, thinking about moving there, but I may like somewhere else in a few months… Never know. Willits will be the next Healdsburg, mark my words. Already have to be a millionaire to live in Ukiah! Soon Garberville will be a bedroom community for Willits. Hmmmm, maybe not!

    Next up: Bypass Eureka/Arcata/Mckinleyville so we never have to go through THAT stinkhole again.

  • Commander Potemkin

    Who Cares! Now, can we just get the fuck on with bypassing Richardson Grove?!?

  • This is chump change compared to the billions (yes with a “b”) the high speed rail project is costing in over runs.
    The Central Valley section (118 miles) was supposed to be done this year. Now projected to 2024. It’s going to be one expensive choo choo.

  • The Willits bypass was worth every penny!!!!! Glad I don’t have to drive thru that shithole to get somewhere on the 101 anymore.

  • I feel that many residents of Willits, and many people who had to sit in traffic during the summer traffic jams think this bypass is worth every penny.
    I was going through Willits on a Friday night, a month ago, I observed the locals seemingly to be enjoying the downtown social hot spots, and being able to park on as well as cross the street in a more relaxed manner.
    I’m sure that the many residents living on Willits back streets are also enjoying the reduced traffic by drivers that were previously trying to avoid the downtown traffic.

  • I think willits should should do well with the bypass. Now that it’s not so jammed with traffic I now stop for food and gas. Before with the heavy traffic I just wanted to get thru and put it behind me.

  • Who has done an exam of what the bypass has done to business ($$$? Income?) in Willits? Locals happy about that too?

    I, for one, used to almost always get my gas and a meal there when I passed though (every month or so). No doubt many (hundreds, if not thousands of) others similarly fill their tanks in other places more convenient..

    • I suspect that some businesses are going to suffer at first, but one just has to look at Ukiah, and Santa Rosa as examples to see what Willit’s future is going to look like.

      • “…one just has to look at … Santa Rosa … to see what Willit’s future is going to look like.”

        Santa Rosa’s population has more than doubled since 1980
        and is nearly 10 times what it was in 1950.

        1950 – pop. 17,902
        1960 – pop. 31,027
        1970 – pop. 50,006
        1980 – pop. 82,658
        1990 – pop. 120,499
        2000 – pop. 149,260
        2010 – pop. 167,815
        2014 – pop. 174,170


  • We still need to bypass Eureka.
    The money will be spent on projects elswhere. Why not here?

  • I thought it was common knowledge that construction always cost twice as much and takes three times as long.

  • Not surprising, government is typically way off on most issues. Didn’t the bypass cost a worker the use of his entire body? What is the price tag on making someone paraplegic? How about the many small business’ closing down and the unseen damage this caused to the community, what are the figures on that sad fact? How about the sacred lands, how much will it cost to restore that which is destroyed? At least police, and the government/ corporations they work for are thrilled though right?

  • So the merchants and city government of Willits are crying about the loss of income and taxes, and sadly the tree huggers now are chummy with the natives about ancestral sites being dozed over since their attempts failed at stopping the bypass, but didn’t they have 30 plus years to organize and get ready for life after the bypass? But no, now they want to bring the MJ dollars by allowing that business to do business in the city after two old goats said no! Willits what will become of this ass backwards town.

  • >”Didn’t the bypass cost a worker the use of his entire body? What is the price tag on making someone paraplegic?”

    Eh ?

    Only thing I can find is a crushed pelvis on a worker when the overhead collapsed.

    You might be confusing the ‘paraplegic’ incident with an accident in Eureka.

    Caltrans had the contractor move a piece of equipment in the road…that would protect the workers… and told them to only leave cones in place.

    Driver went through the cones, hitting a worker.

    >”How about the sacred lands, how much will it cost to restore that which is destroyed?

    Well, the ‘sacred lands’ are still there… till geologic processes finally will remove them. Some day the ‘sacred lands’ will either be a mountain top or under the ocean… or…

  • Here is the French approach to wetland passage;
    I remember when the U.S. use to be the leader
    in transportation design.

  • Definitely the stupidest and most expensive option for a bypass. If you have a hospital emergency, or even if you want to go to Safeway, you have to enter Willits from [either] extreme end. And who knew Willits had such an ugly side? Way to go, Caltrans! Oh, and no Hwy 20 exchange.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *