In the News

Untangling our toughest intersection: Santa Cruz City Council to review Highway 1 improvements

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 5/13/13

SANTA CRUZ -- Waiting in bottle-necked traffic on the Highway 1 bridge over the San Lorenzo River or at the nearby intersection with Highway 9 is nothing compared to the time it may take to see all the planned improvements along the well-traveled corridor.

Caltrans, which in a 2001 report acknowledged problems entering and exiting Santa Cruz in this area, is now evaluating the fourth iteration of the city's expansion plans for the bridge.

The current plans, which call for replacing the 57-year-old dual-span bridge and adding lanes, are expected to gain an initial approval from Caltrans by the end of May. The project would then enter environmental review and design phases before the state transportation agency would consider final approval.

Also by late May, officials expect to release an environmental analysis of adding lanes and making other improvements at the intersection of Highways 1 and 9. After public and Caltrans review, construction is expected to be completed in 2015.

"It makes sense to see, with Highway 1 and 9 improvements, what kind of effect we could have," said Luis Duazo, a Caltrans project manager. "It will give us a good idea how wide that bridge needs to be and how to optimize traffic on that bridge."

The projects are designed to alleviate persistent congestion in the area, which includes routine backups traveling into Santa Cruz at the Highways 1 and 17 intersection, and at the River Street and Highway 9 intersection with Highway 1.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, planning and public works officials will seek direction from the Santa Cruz City Council on how to proceed with the bridge project. Rather than construct a new span, the city could add lanes to the existing bridge or do nothing.


Replacing the bridge is estimated to cost $12 million to $16 million. Adding lanes on the existing bridge could cost $10 million to $12 million, but require seismic upgrades that would add costs.

In the long run, project manager Joe Hall said, "It's probably cheaper to build a new bridge."

Less likely is that the city would leave the bridge alone and allow a long history of traffic congestion and collisions to continue.

The Regional Transportation Commission and city's Transportation and Public Works Commission have identified the project as vital to improving safety. The accident rate near the intersection and bridge is nearly twice as high as the statewide average for similar areas, according to the city.

The projects are listed on the city's Capital Improvement Projects for 2014-2016, a spending plan to be reviewed in a study session by the council after a discussion about the highway projects. The capital improvement funding won't be finalized until the council approves a city budget in July.

During the council's 2 p.m. meeting Tuesday, city leaders will consider spending $86,000 for a study of water rates, which are expected to rise significantly in coming years to pay for more than $100 million in capital improvements to the water system serving 90,000 customers.

Rates also will increase if the city is approved to build and operate a proposed $128 million seawater desalination plant to supplement supply threatened by drought and mandates to protect fish habitat in North Coast streams.

Raftelis Financial Consultants, a national firm with an office in Pasadena, will recommend how rates should be structured to reflect projected costs of service and strike a balance with funding capital projects. The firm also is working on a separate report evaluating financial aspects of desalination, and a critical environmental analysis of the proposed facility is expected Monday.

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