US Route 101 through southern Humboldt County contains a expressway gap through Richardson Grove State Park. US Route 101 in Richardson Grove has long been a contentious topic regarding potentially highway development in an environmentally sensitive area.
US Route 101 ("US 101") bottlenecks to a narrow two lane highway within Richardson Grove State Park. As noted above Richardson Grove is situated in southern Humboldt County and forms an expressway gap amongst the protected Coastal Redwoods. This has led to a situation where Richardson Grove has become a road block to large capacity truck freight from reaching Humboldt County.
Part 1; the history of the Redwood Highway, Legislative Route 1, and US Route 101 through Richardson Grove
According to the Richardson Grove State Park Brochure the first inhabitants of Richardson Grove were the Sinkyone people who thrived along the South Fork Eel River. The non-native settler of Richardson Grove was Ruben Reed of Kentucky. Reed's lands were homesteaded in the early 1900s by his widow and brother. The Reed land was purchased by Henry Devoy who subsequently leased it out for development. In 1920 Edwin Freeman constructed a store, dining room, and cabins at the present site of the Richardson Grove Visitor Center. In 1922 the Save the Redwoods League purchased 120 acres of Richardson Grove which in turn was used to found Richardson Grove State Park. The Save the Redwoods League made their purchase in Richardson Grove out of concern due to highway development. At the time Legislative Route Number 1 ("LRN 1") and the Redwood Highway had already been established through Richardson Grove. Over the ensuing decades Richardson Grove State Park would expand to a current size of 2,000 acres.
The history of what would become US Route 101 and the Redwood Highway within Richardson Grove begins with the approval of the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act. The First State Highway Bond Act was approved by voters during 1910 and was the genesis point of some of the most notable highways in California. LRN 1 in it's original form was a new State Highway which was designated between San Francisco north to Crescent City. The route of LRN 1 would be extended to the Oregon State Line during the 1919 Third State Highway Bond Act and was known as the Redwood Highway. LRN 1 can be seen aligned through what is now Richardson Grove on the 1917 California State Automobile Association Map.
In November 1926 the US Route System was created. US Route 101 from San Francisco north to Crescent City was aligned over the Redwood Highway. Both US 101 and the Redwood Highway through Richardson Grove (shown as Humboldt State Redwood Park) can be seen on the 1927 Rand McNally Highway Map of California.
Some of the early issues with US 101 are evident even before World War II. In this photo below (from the July-August 1964 California Highways & Public Works) a Division of Highways employee can be seen measuring the narrow width between Redwoods on US 101 in Richardson Grove.
US 101 is shown in detail through Richardson Grove (shown as Richardson Toumey Grove) on the 1935 Division of Highways Map of Humboldt County.
The May-June 1956 California Highways & Public Works displays a familiar traffic scene to modern times on US 101 in Richardson Grove.
The 1969 Division of Highways State Map shows a proposed realignment of US 101 around Richardson Grove. US 101 is shown to have a proposed alignment tracking east of Richardson Grove and the South Fork Eel River over the Mendocino County Line.
The 1970 Division of Highways State Map shows the Richardson Grove bypass under construction.
Over the past decade Caltrans has found itself in a legal battle in the Federal Court System over widening existing US 101 in Richardson Grove. A summary of the legal battle regarding US 101 in Richardson Grove since 2012 can be found on California Highway's US Route 101 page. The latest U.S. Court Of Appeals For the Ninth Circuit opinion (dated 12/2/2020) can be found on this link. The root of the expansion of US 101 in Richardson Grove stems from the fact that industry-standard Surface Transportation Act Assistance ("STAA") trucks are not permitted. The prohibition of STAA trucks are the only road preventing large freight capacity vehicles from reaching Humboldt County (which is not possible on US 101 from Del Norte County nor from CA 299). The current Caltrans expansion plans for US 101 in Richardson Grove includes removing several dozen younger growth Coastal Redwoods.
Part 2; a drive on US Route 101 through Richardson Grove State Park
US 101 southbound begins it's approach to Richardson Grove State Park upon crossing the South Fork Eel River via the Edward C. Wagner Memorial Bridge at approximately Postmile HUM R5.90.
As US 101 south intersects Benbow Drive at Postmile HUM R5.22 it converges to a conventional two-lane highway.
US 101 south dips to a 40 MPH Speed Limit and trucks are advised of tight curves through the next 3 miles.
US 101 south narrows to a shoulderless highway upon entering Richardson Grove State Park at approximately Postmile HUM 2.02.
US 101 continues south through a tunnel-like lined alignment of Coastal Redwoods and emerges from Richardson Grove State Park into Cook's Valley at approximately Postmile HUM 0.47.
US 101 south passes through Cook's Valley and intersects it's former alignment at the Northern Segment of CA 271 at Postmile HUM T0.08. The "T" Postmile designation at CA 271 serves as a trace reminder regarding the long dead planned US 101 bypass of Richardson Grove State Park.