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As Highway 46 improvement project impacts wetlands, CalTrans proposes Centennial Creek restoration

The Centennial Creek Mitigation Project intends to improve hydrology and function of the creek by removing and/or replacing undersized culverts, removing hardscaping and debris, and engineering roughened riffles

The fastest route connecting the Central Valley to the Central Coast, Highway 46, has also been a notoriously dangerous one. CalTrans has been working on a State Route 46 4-Lane Widening Project to help reduce the accident rate, and to ease congestion. 

James Dean was the most famous person to lose their life on Highway 46, but unfortunately he wasn’t the last one. Since that famous crash in 1955, according to CHP, more than 60 people have been killed along that stretch of highway. 

“Going back to the mid-1990s is when this corridor started to get a lot of attention due to accidents that were occurring,"  Project Manager David Rasmussen said. "That was kind of the beginning of the start of the conversion of the entire corridor from a two-lane conventional highway to a 4 lane expressway.” 

Rasmuessen said the widening has been a work in progress for several years, and eventually, Highway 46 will be a 4-lane divided expressway from Highway 101 in Paso Robles to Interstate 5 in Lost Hills in Kern County.

“It drastically improves safety and efficiency on the roadway,” Jennifer Moonjian with CalTrans said. 

The improvements do come at a cost, Moonjian said, as the project has impacted wetlands in the area. 

“So we’ve consolidated all of our mitigation needs into one location," Moonjian said. "So that we can provide a more meaningful and holistic approach to mitigation.”

CalTrans plans to restore about four acres around the Centennial Creek bed in Paso Robles. David Best with the Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation district said he’s in favor of the plans, and believes it a win-win for residents in the area.

“There’s old concrete piles in some sections, there’s culverts that are eroding," Best said. "There is just sort of a lack of riparian complexity overall.”

CalTrans is planning to provide around $1 million in funding to improve the creekbed but is asking for public comment on the proposal.

Comments are being accepted through September 17. There will also be a virtual public meeting about the Centennial project onThursday, September 9 from 5:30 to 6:30pm.

Construction on the next phase of widening Highway 46 around the Cholame Y intersection is anticipated to begin in Fall 2022.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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