A group of local officials and community members gathered under a small mid-county parking lot located near Hwy 1 Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the groundbreaking of a massive construction project. The multi-million dollar project is expected to transform the corridor and revolutionize travel countywide.
Construction on phase 1 of the Watsonville–Santa Cruz Multimodal Corridor Program is set to begin this week. It includes widening Hwy 1 and laying the groundwork for the bus-on-shoulder lanes from 41st Ave. to Soquel Drive.
The project also includes a bicycle and pedestrian bridge at Chanticleer Ave.
Phase 1 is the start of a $100 million program that will make similar upgrades along the busy highway, which moves some 100,000 people per day.
Phase 2 will stretch from the Bay/Porter exit to State Park Drive, while Phase 3 will run from State Park Drive to Freedom Blvd.
The long-awaited project is expected to ease traffic on Hwy 1, encourage ridership of the county’s public transportation system and reduce greenhouse gas output.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission Executive Director Guy Preston. “It’s a monumental effort, and we have so many more projects coming after it.”
All three phases include bicycle and pedestrian bridges. They also include a bus-on-shoulder lane along Hwy 1, which keeps buses separate from personal vehicles, allowing traffic to move more quickly.
METRO CEO Michael Tree said that the agency aims to increase ridership to 7 million per year and to purchase a fleet of zero-emission buses.
In addition, Soquel Drive will also see improvements such as traffic signal upgrades and buffered bike lanes.
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Board Chair Manu Koenig said he has heard many constituents ask when the county will fix the highway.
“Well, here we are, finally doing just that,” he said. “This is truly a fantastic transportation project and it’s thinking about our transportation facilities in a new way.”
“This truly is a linchpin for transportation in our community,” Koenig said. “If you’re driving north, you get stuck here. If you’re driving south, you get stuck here. So this project will improve flow through the heart of our community, the middle of our county. It’s going to help people going in both directions.”
Capitola Vice-Mayor Kristen Brown, who also serves as vice-chair for both Santa Cruz METRO and the County Regional Transportation Commission, said her positions give her a unique perspective on the benefits the highway improvements will have for the community.
“These projects will bring about substantial improvements in traffic and safety operations, reduce cut-through traffic on our local streets and neighborhoods–which is something that has been happening in Capitola for quite some time–and enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety for active transportation users.”
Funding for Phase 1:
$3.3 million from Measure D
$35.3 million from various sources: the State Transportation Improvement Program, Senate Bill 1 and the Cal Trans Highway Infrastructure Program.