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ROUND THE CURVE

briefsteve-mandel-laurel curve-600x380Highway 17 drivers can get ready to sound off. CalTrans is going to want to hear from you for an Access Management Plan to help the flow of traffic on the winding stretch of highway between Mount Hermon and Summit roads.

Safety on Highway 17 has consistently improved due to various changes to the roadway, according to Susana Cruz, Public Information Officer for CalTrans District Five (which stretches from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz County).

But it’s not yet time to relax. “There’s still accidents on 17, it’s not a worry-free highway. It still requires managing,” says Cruz.

One possible idea for the future, CalTrans officials say, is to decrease onramps to improve traffic flow and limit accidents.

“CalTrans will be looking for feedback from everyone,” says Colin Jones, Public and Legislative Affairs Manager for District Five.

Jones says District Five staff is developing a list of stakeholders in Santa Cruz County that includes public agencies, transportation providers, bicycle and pedestrian groups, emergency responders, environmental groups, and, of course, the Silicon Valley commuters who endure the daily grind.

“We’re looking at the corridor holistically,” says Brandy Rider, Senior Transportation Planner for District Five. The nuts and bolts of the project, she adds, include how drivers access the highway.

Still in its infant stages, the study is, for now, a pilot project that Santa Cruz County will lead, but the curvy roadway extends into Santa Clara County CalTrans, which is in District Four. Santa Clara County CalTrans will take a look at the results on the Santa Cruz side, before undertaking an access management plan of its own.    

“We’re looking at a more full-fledged corridor study that plans strategies related to highway safety, access and mobility,” said Bernard Walik, Public Information Officer for CalTrans District Four.

Jones says his staff is working on the public engagement strategies for those who live in the Santa Cruz area. He says that could include focus groups or web-based participation. CalTrans will partner with Santa Cruz County and the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to reach out to stakeholders. The first workshop is expected to take place sometime this spring. Traffic experts have 18 months left on the study, which began last summer. In addition to public feedback, CalTrans will rely on data collected from traffic sensors, cameras and some field study, like mapping the places where animals cross the road.

Speaking of wildlife crossings, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County recently secured the purchase of 280 acres east of Highway 17’s Laurel Curve, which is the first phase of getting a wildlife tunnel constructed there. The organization met its $1 million dollar fundraising goal through private donations on Jan. 3.

“I’m ecstatic. Our community really pulled through,” says Calah Pasley, Development and Outreach Manager for the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County.

With phase 1 now complete, Pasley says she can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Phase 2 involves fundraising to buy 190 acres west of Laurel Curve, Pasley says. She expects the Land Trust will partner with the RTC for state grants to get construction of the wildlife crossing under way. According to Pasley, tunnel burrowing could begin anytime after summer 2016, and construction will not interrupt the flow of traffic on Highway 17.

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