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Town Hall with Supervisor Ellen Pirie

traffic hwy1The Regional Transportation Commission has several big projects in the works, including on Highway 1. What will these accomplish, and when can residents expect completion?

There are several important projects under way through the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). One is the Soquel Avenue/Morrissey Boulevard auxiliary lanes project on Highway 1. That’s a project that will add one lane on each side of the freeway between Soquel Avenue and Morrissey Boulevard. On average, that section of Highway 1 is used by more than 100,000 vehicles per day. The expectation is that these auxiliary lanes will reduce congestion and make entering and exiting the freeway safer in that area.    

Construction of the project has already started, as anyone who drives through that area knows. Trees are being removed to accommodate the additional width needed for the two new lanes. Fortunately, three new trees for every one removed will be planted, but the area will look a bit bare for a little while.

Part of this project is to replace the La Fonda Street Bridge over the freeway. The new bridge will have bike and pedestrian amenities that the old bridge didn’t have room for, such as sidewalks and bike lanes. The hope is that more people will walk or ride their bicycles if they feel safe doing so.

The Soquel Avenue/Morrissey Auxiliary Lane Project will be completed in 2013, hopefully before summer.

Another big project is the purchase of the rail line right of way. The RTC has been working on buying the rail right of way for many years and has been under contract with the current owner, Union Pacific, for more than 10 years. Several times we have thought that we were ready to close escrow only to have the rug pulled out from under us. We hope to complete the purchase this year.

The purpose of purchasing the rail line is to preserve the 31-mile long, unbroken series of land parcels for future transportation uses. Those transportation uses may be passenger rail, freight service, pedestrian and bicycle path, or a combination of those uses.

ellen pirie2Union Pacific and the RTC were ready to complete the transaction this past December when the company selected to carry freight on the line and run passenger service from Santa Cruz to Davenport pulled out. The sad fact is that there is not enough freight business on the line north of Watsonville to justify the cost of running the service. Since the rail plan that had been approved by the federal government included freight service up to Santa Cruz, we will have to get their approval of a different scenario. It’s unclear how long it will take to develop that new scenario with a new partner and how long the federal review will take, but we are trying to move as quickly as possible.

Another Highway 1 project that the RTC has been working on for years is to widen Highway 1 by adding a center HOV (high occupancy vehicles, i.e. buses, carpools and emergency vehicles) lane in both directions. The Draft EIR is 95 percent complete and will be finished soon.

With global warming on everyone’s mind and research showing that bumper-to-bumper traffic is one of the worst producers of greenhouse gases, it would seem like the time had finally come to build this project. Unfortunately, the estimated construction cost is $500 million and neither the state nor the local governments have that kind of money. Instead the RTC may try to construct smaller pieces of the HOV project over time. One I’m particularly hoping for is the Mar Vista Pedestrian Bridge over Highway 1.

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