A $38.6 million award from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) will fund county efforts to bolster environmentally-friendly bus services and build low-income housing.
The money will allow Santa Cruz METRO to purchase 24 zero-emission, hydrogen-powered buses, including constructing a hydrogen fueling station.
The funds will also go to ongoing efforts to create more than 180 affordable housing units at the county’s two main transportation hubs.
METRO officials envision a future with all-day bus service at 15-minute intervals from Watsonville to locations throughout the county. Plans also include express service between Santa Cruz and San Jose with 15-minute commute periods on Hwy 17.
Sasha Kergan, Deputy Secretary of the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, said creating housing near public transportation reduces overall housing costs and increases bus ridership, taking cars off the road and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Projects expected near transit hubs include Pacific Station in downtown Santa Cruz, a mixed-use development that combines the METRO station with 120 units of affordable housing above. Also expected is a revamping of METRO’s Watsonville Transit Center to a four-story building with 60 affordable housing units above.
“These investments support people every day,” Kergan said. “In how they get to their jobs, how they get to school, how they get to and from the places in their community and adjacent communities. It’s best when we can stick the landing by getting housing located close by transportation investment as well.”
The county also received a $3.45 million grant that will go toward the Project Concept Report and environmental study for the Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) Zero Emission Passenger Rail and Trail Project.
“It’s going to give us an incredible amount of clarity about how to move forward with that project,” said RTC Board Chair Manu Koenig. “It’s going to help us plan some of the most beautiful segments of the coastal trail, down by Harkins and Gallgher sloughs, where you can see a ton of beautiful bird species.”
Koenig said the buses would be a part of the County’s bus-on-shoulder program, establishing a bus-only lane on Hwy 1 from 41st Avenue to Freedom Boulevard.
“These 24 new hydrogen buses we’re going to get, they’re going to be running faster here than anywhere else in the state because they are going to have priority on the highway,” he said.
The buses will also be equipped with transponders designed to keep signal lights on Soquel Drive green longer, allowing them to flow easier.
“We are going to make the most of this new fleet; you better believe it,” Koenig said.