.Two-Way Traffic to Return to West Cliff

Construction will begin this week and continue through 2024

The Santa Cruz City Council unanimously voted yesterday to rebuild the collapsed portion of West Cliff Drive back to two-way traffic upon the completion of cliff-protecting infrastructure.

Last winter, strong southerly blowing winds and large waves caused part of the roadway to collapse, reminding Santa Cruzans of the fragility of their beloved overlook. To those whose daily ritual consisted of a drive down to Natural Bridges and back and vice versa, (depending where they lived in town), the shock was even greater. 

This week, construction will begin on four sea-walls on the most impacted cliff-sides. In the areas between the seawalls and the standing cliff-face, concrete will be used to reinforce the road. 

“It’s like a really bad cavity in your teeth. You cannot just put a veneer over that,” said City Engineer Kevin Crossley.

The roadway from Columbia St. to Woodrow Ave. will be the first phase of the project to be completed, restoring traffic to two-lanes. Federal funds will contribute $5 million for the initial phase of the project, which costs $8.7 million in total. The rest of the money will come from a mix of city and state funding—the city plans on redirecting money from current projects to cover the construction costs, delaying work on other city plans.

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Speed is of the essence, considering construction will be underway during this year’s El Niño—a weather pattern that typically brings rainier winter seasons. Crews will work 10 hour shifts and on Saturdays to expedite construction. Kevin Crossley said for now, West Cliff from Columbia to Woodrow is expected to stay open to pedestrians and bicyclists during the duration of construction.

The Bethany Curve part of the project, widening and elevating the lowest part of West Cliff, is expected to begin in Spring 2024 and will cost an estimated $10 million. Funding sources for that phase has not been identified. Bethany Culvert is the skinniest part of West Cliff and it will be closed entirely.

Dozens of people chimed in to give their thoughts on the future of West Cliff drive on Tuesday evening.

Board Member of Bike Santa Cruz County, Amelia Conlen read aloud statements from residents who support more space for bikes: “I personally used to love walking on West Cliff but I’ve begun turning down friends who want to walk there because of the fast moving cyclists.” 

On the other hand, Pelton Avenue resident Don Iglesias said, “We have people in our neighborhood who are in their nineties that look forward to being able to drive, have their sons or daughters drive them down West Cliff Drive. They look forward to it everyday.”

“We’re cruisers. We cruise. We’re the founders of Santa Cruz Woodies Club. We bicycle. We walk. All different types of cruising,” said Cathy Iglesias. “Two-way is really important to us because we get to see it in both directions.”

Looming over the proceedings is the 50-year vision for West Cliff, currently in the planning phase, where the real fight over West Cliff’s use and protection will be fought. 

Mayor Fred Keeley questioned if FEMA and federal funds could be counted on in the future for emergency repairs, pointing out that the California Coastal Commission has as a policy of “managed retreat” from the coast and that we can no longer count on “one-in-hundred year” natural disasters happening so infrequently.

“I don’t know how we get to a fifty year vision when what’s going to happen likely is once or twice a decade we are going to have what happened this year. And how does that factor into a fifty year vision?” said Mayor Keeley. “If I was them [the Feds] I would not be interested in coming here every couple of years and dumping a whole bunch of money again.”

“It occurs to me we are not retreating at this moment,” said Mayor Keeley.


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