The following are issues relating to highway and interstate issues in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito Counties in California. As always, your comments and corrections are always welcome.
Monterey Bay Area (Santa Cruz/Monterey/San Benito Counties):
Highway 1 Improvements Near Carmel
For anyone who's traveled to or through the Carmel area, it's no surprise that Highway 1 through the Carmel area is a mess. Caltrans for decades has proposed building a brand-new freeway east of the current Highway 1 alignment near Carmel, and for decades local residents have been against it. The main opposition centers around the fact that the freeway would pass through Hatton Canyon, home to many varied plants and animals, some of which are endangered (which is why Caltrans in 1998 renamed the freeway Hatton Canyon Parkway in a failed attempt to gain support for the project).
Caltrans planned a four- to six-lane freeway through the canyon between Carpenter Street and Carmel Valley Road, with the freeway continuing adjacent to the existing alignment to just south of Rio Road. There was to have been a partial interchange at Carpenter Street and a "SPUI" (Single Point Urban Interchange--see Scott Ogleby's Field Guilde To Interchanges for more information) at Carmel Valley Road. The downgrade from Carpenter Street south will be at about 8%.
However, the freeway plan was eventually rejected by local politics. On March 21, 1999, the Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC) voted 11-6 to transfer all of the funding from the Highway 1 freeway bypass of Carmel to the US 101 freeway bypass of Prunedale. Caltrans has accepted this verdict and will not contest the project further, at least not for now. This result is not entirely unexpected. Many recent attempts to preserve the right-of-way for open space or a park have been underway for months, including those by the Monterey County Parks Department and former Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who entered a bill into the state assembly which would preserve Hatton Canyon as open space and would also require Caltrans to make major improvements to the existing Highway 1 corridor through Carmel. This bill, passed during Summer 2001, would convert the old freeway corridor into a state park.
Caltrans response to this setback is to revamp the project without the Hatton Canyon segment. A Project Study Report (or PSR, Caltrans-speak for a study of the project to evaluate its projected effectiveness) is currently ongoing to make improvements to the existing Highway 1 segment north of Carmel Valley Road, and add interchanges at Carmel Valley Road and Rio Road. As an interim step, in July 2001, the Carmel Unincorporated/Highlands Land Use Advisory Committee recommended approval to the Monterey County Planning Commission of a $2 million project to widen northbound Highway 1 between Carmel Valley Road and Ocean Avenue. This will accomodate the proposed widening of Carmel Valley Road at Highway 1 to allow for dual right turn lanes at the intersection. In August 2001, the County Planning Commission approved the improvements to the existing Highway 1 corridor, and in 2002, the Highway 1 improvements between Carmel Valley Road and Ocean Avenue was opened for traffic.
Highway 1/Fremont Boulevard Interchange Reconstruction in Seaside/Sand City
Caltrans and the Transportation Agency for Monterey County (or TAMC) proposing a reconstruction of this interchange on the border of Seaside and Sand City, near Monterey. This reconstruction also involves freeway widening, a new interchange just to the north of this interchange, and intersection improvements. Specifically, here is what is proposed:
Highway 1 Bypass of Moss Landing
Of all the highways I cover on the Central Coast, this is the one which is least likely to ever be built. Between Santa Cruz and Watsonville, and between Castroville and Carmel, Highway 1 is a full-fledged, 4- to 6-lane freeway. In between, there is a gaping hole in the transportation network of the Central Coast, centered around the small community of Moss Landing. It is a two-land road with a high accident fatality rate, and makes travel between Santa Cruz and Monterey a chore.
So this project should be a no-brainer, right? Wrong, for two reasons. First, a bypass would have to go around the Moss Landing Power Plant. This plant sits right next to the road, with the Moss Landing harbor on the other side of the highway. This plant generates power for the entire Central Coast and beyond. So, there is now room for a widening project near the plant. But a bypass might work, if it's far enough inland. But then comes the second problem. Bordering the north side of the plant is Elkhorn Slough, a large nature preserve. The slough and surrounding wetlands extend northeast for about 3 miles. So, if you're going to push the bypass that far inland, you might as well take US 101 instead--you'd be just as close to it. The narrowest part of the slough is right at the north end of the power plant, and as you head inland, it becomes more of a long lake in terms of its dimensions. So, what option does that leave us with? Well, signs telling motorists to turn on their headlights, a campaign co-authored by the California Highway Patrol. But, short of demolishing the Moss Landing Harbor or bulldozing over some wetlands, it's about the only option left.
Highway 17 is one of the most heavily-used and dangerous roads in the whole Monterey Bay area, if not the state. (For more information on Highway 17, please check out my Fishhook page.) My best-case solution would be to convert the non-freeway portion of the highway between Scotts Valley and Los Gatos into a freeway, by building overpasses for all the major cross-streets and reducing the steep grades and straightening the blind curves. But, due to the mountainous nature of the highway, and the relatively low traffic volume on the cross streets, this will never occur. A widening alternative was recently considered but eventually rejected. The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission in February of 1998 approved funding and official promotion of truck climbing lanes on the Santa Cruz County side of the highway. Such lanes would be helpful, as due to the steep grades, trucks are forced to drive at a speed limit of only 35 MPH (while most are more like 5 MPH), which ties up traffic on the two-lanes-in-each-direction highway, especially during commute times. Passing lanes will allow more cars to pass trucks, and allow one lane of through traffic when a truck going 6 MPH tries to pass a truck going 5 MPH. Caltrans even tenatively slated construction for the year 2004, and began to start funding with the 1998 budget. However, when Caltrans began to investigate the final design and other related improvements, the costs of the project escalated to over $47 million, and in November 2000, the Transportation Commission axed the project. The $6 million that Caltrans has already saved for the project will instead be used to widen the shoulders and add new turnouts along the Santa Cruz County side of the highway. These latter improvements began in 2006 at Laurel Curve, where the highway is being widened to accommodate wider lanes and shoulders through the curve and the intersection with Laurel Road. Similar improvements are planned in 2007 at Glenwood Drive.
The main issue in any improvement project along Highway 17 would be whether or not Santa Clara County will try to make improvements to their half of the highway. The Santa Clara County side has more bridges, taller cliffs, more nearby homes, steeper hillsides, and narrow canyon passages than the Santa Cruz County side, and construction of a project like that would be a major monetary and engineering feat. In past decades, Santa Clara County had proposed widening Highway 17 from Bear Creek Road to Highway 9, perhaps with an HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, but the narrowness of the Los Gatos Creek canyon made any improvements infeasible in their view. However, it is the side with the largest backups during commute times, and I don't know how much of an effect improvements on just the Santa Cruz County side will have on congestion over the entire highway.
Interestingly enough, many people in the past have proposed banning trucks on Highway 17 at either commute times or 24 hours a day. I disagree with this idea, as they need to adequately address the problem of where else the trucks can go. Highway 17 is the main route between Santa Cruz and San Jose (and the rest of the world, for that matter), and the only 4-lane highway that crosses the coastal hills in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas. The only alternate for the trucks would be Highway 129 from Watsonville to US 101, but that means extra truck traffic on Highway 1, perhaps necessitating a 6-lane freeway to handle the extra traffic. Plus, going down through Watsonville and back up US 101 will more than double the travel time for those trucks, increasing costs for businesses and consumers.
Highway 68 is a major highway connecting Monterey with Salinas. It's a major commute highway, and also a governmental highway, as Salinas is the county seat of Monterey County. Plus, it's the most direct way to reach US 101 and the rest of the state from the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel.
Highway 68 is just two lanes for much of its length. But, for a small stretch in Monterey and a few miles leading into Salinas, it's 4 lanes, with the section near Salinas at freeway grade with two interchanges (at Reservation Road/River Road and Spreckels Boulevard). The highway has many serious accidents, mostly in the two-lane portion. Personally, I'd like to see the highway realigned near Salinas such that, instead of entering the southeastern corner of Salinas as an at-grade road, it would become a freeway that would travel more easterly, to meet US 101 just south of the city limits, between Airport Boulevard and Abbott Street. This would also mesh well with the proposed Eastside Expressway within the new City of Salinas General Plan, which proposes a new expressway from the proposed Abbott Street/Harris Road intersection out to Old Stage Road and up to at least San Juan Grade Road. One major obstacle to such an upgrade, though, is that the alignment to Highway 101 would travel through prime agricultural land, which would be an environmental impact that may not be easily mitigated.
An alignment for a freeway bypass of the Laguna Seca area was adopted as part of the Fort Ord reuse plan in the 1990's, between just east of San Benancio Road and Canyon Del Rey Road (Highway 218). This improvement would thereby create a continuous freeway from Spreckels to the outskirts of Monterey. A shorter-term fix to this segment would be to widen the highway into a 4-lane expressway. In a sense, it's already an expressway, a there are few cross streets and access points, and many of the major intersections are controlled by signals.
Caltrans and the local agencies in the area, are currently pursuing improvements to the existing highway. In 2005, Caltrans widened Highway 68 to a four-lane expressway between Highway 218 (Canyon Del Rey Road) and Ragsdale Drive, and signalized the Ragsdale Drive/Highway 68 interchange. Future plans include additional turn lanes at the York Road/Highway 68 and San Benancio Road/Highway 68 intersections, to be implemented sometime in the next 5 years. Finally, alternative corridors to Highway 68 are being pursued by Monterey County, the Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC), and the Cities of Monterey and Del Rey Oaks. First, in 2005, the two cities opened Rancho Saucito Lane and South Boundary Road, allowing drivers to access both the eastern Ryan Ranch Business Park (along Ragsdale Drive), and the Laguna Seca Business Park (off of York Road) without using Highway 68. And eventually, York Road will be extended north to South Boundary Road, thereby creating a mini-bypass of Highway 68 between York Road and General Jim Moore Boulevard.
Another area along Highway 68 that needs improvements is the Highway 1/68 interchange and the Holman Highway in the Monterey/Pebble Beach area. This interchange and highway are both underpowered, and operate at unacceptably high delays. Caltrans completed a Project Study Report for the project in 2001, which proposes a reconfiguration of and additional lanes at the Southbound Highway 1 Ramps/17 Mile Drive Gate/Highway 68 intersection, as well as widening from two to four lanes of Highway 68 (Holman Highway) between Highway 1 and just northwest of the entrance to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). The once-proposed Pebble Beach development project, which would have added a new golf course, added new homes, relocated the existing equestrian center, and expanded both the Pebble Beach Lodge and the Inn at Spanish Bay, had pledged to provide over $1 million dollars towards the project. Howver, the Pebble Beach Company pulled the project after approval by Monterey County in 2005, after the California Coastal Commission staff stated that it was against the development project.
The primary impediment for construction of these improvements is money. Monterey County has little money for improvements, and other areas have higher priorities. However, the improvements at the Highway 68 intersections of York Road and San Benancio Road are funded, and, as noted earlier, will be constructed sometime in the next 5 years.
US 101 (Prunedale Bypass)
US 101 is a major north-south artery in California, connecting all the major California costal cities (well, all but San Diego, but many years ago it did go down that far). Between San Jose and Salinas, its not only a major freight transport and tourist route, but a major commuter highway for residents of the fast-growing Monterey, San Benito, and southern Santa Clara Counties. Unfortunately, for about a 10-mile section above Salinas, the freeway becomes an at-grade, 4-lane highway. There are many cross streets and twists and turns, making this area prone to many fatal accidents. This is why Caltrans has proposed for many years creating a Prunedale Bypass (so named due to the fact that the new alignment will head east of the community of Prunedale). This would be a 4-lane freeway within a 6-lane right-of-way that would eliminate the problems of the current highway. And finally, the project is getting the support that it deserves. Monterey County, after trying hard for years to get the bypass built, is finally getting a good deal of support from all around the county. In a county poll taken in 2004, of all the proposed transportation projects around the county, the citizens said they would be most willing to fund the Prunedale Bypass. I feel that the residents of Monterey County are finally serious about building the bypass, and that it will be built relatively soon. In fact, the transportation bill passed by Congress back in Summer 1998 authorized $1.65 million for designing the bypass.
In late 2000, Caltrans created a Prunedale Bypass web page, describing all the bypass options. Alternative 1 is to simply leave the highway as it is (the baseline condition). Alternative 2, which has the most support from the local community, is to simply upgrade the existing alignment to at 6-lane freeway with new interchanges at Russel/Espinosa Roads, Blackie Road/Reese Circle, and Crazy Horse Canyon/Echo Valley Roads, as well as adding frontage roads along nearly the entire segment between Salinas and the Monterey County Line to provide access to the existing businesses and side streets along US 101. This improvement is also named the Prunedale Improvement Project, or PIP. (The San Miguel Canyon Road and US 101/Highway 156 interchanges are a separate issue for Caltrans, and have already been completed.) Alternatives 3 and 3 West would route the bypass to the east of the existing highway, linking up with the existing alignment near the intersection with Crazy Horse Canyon Road. Alternatives 4 and 4 West are similar to 3 and 3 West, but take the bypass further east. Also, with Alternatives 3, 3 West, 4, and 4 West, the segment of the existing highway between Highway 156/Vierra Canyon Road and Crazy Horse Canyon Road would be reclassified as Highway 156. Alternatives 3, 3 West, 4, and 4 West would also add a new freeway-grade interchange where the bypass would meet the current highway. This leads me to believe that Caltrans will also eventually push for the existing highway between Vierra Canyon and Crazy Horse Canyon Roads to be upgraded to a freeway as well, if a bypass is built. Since developing these alternatives, Alternatives 3 and 3 West have officially been retracted by Caltrans as possible options, leaving only 4 and 4 West as the bypass routes. Caltrans expected construction of the chosen alternative to begin in 2007 with completion in 2010. However, in 2005, Caltrans changed course, and is instead now pursuing the PIP. Caltrans has secured full funding for the PIP improvements, and has completed its environmental review of the project. The PIP improvements are now planned to be constructed first, starting in 2009.
Highway 156 widening
In late August 1998, Caltrans began to reveal their plan to widen Highway 156 between Highway 1 in Castroville and US 101 in Prunedale from 2 to 4 lanes. Highway 156 is a major highway that allows direct travel from Monterey to San Jose, for both trucks, tourists, and residents. However, some residents who live on the highway are against the plan, as they fear it will make it even harder to turn into their driveways durring heavy traffic times. They prefer widening Espinosa Road, a rural two-lane county road, to four lanes instead.
My opinion is that Highway 156 should be upgraded even further than Caltrans has proposed. Highway 156 should be a freeway from Highway 1 to US 101, so that when combined with the US 101 Prunedale Bypass, direct freeway travel can be made between Monterey and San Jose (not to mention the rest of the state). Such an upgrade wold be easy, as the road is simply a straight shot from Highway 1 to US 101 along a slightly mountainous alignment, with very few cross streets and some private driveways (all of which could be handled by simple frontage roads and diamond interchanges). The best upgrade plan might be a complete realignment to the south between Castroville and Highway 101, as the vast majority of the development along the highway is along the northern frontage. This is one of the two possible alignments that Caltrans proposes for the freeway; the other option would be to convert the existing alignment into the new westbound freeway lanes, and build a brand-new eastbound alignment just south of the existing alignment. Likely interchanges would be at Castroville Boulevard and, possibly, either Oak Hills Drive or Cathedral Oaks Drive.
CA 156 is already a freeway through Castroville (with its own diamond interchange at Highway 183) and currently has direct, freeway-like interchanges with Highway 1 and US 101 (although the US 101 interchange is pretty funky and Caltrans is working on plans to change it). Highway 156 could even work well as a spur route in combination with my proposed Highway 152 freeway upgrade. Also keeping with my Highway 152 plan would be converting the remaining portion of Highway 156, from San Juan Bautista to Highway 152 north of Hollister, into a freeway, too. (See the Highway 152 freeway upgrade section for more details.) This is a long-term plan of Caltrans, but probably wouldn't happen for a good 20 or 30 years, if at all. However, Caltrans has officially programmed the widening of Highway 156 from a two-lane highway to a four-lane expressway between The Alameda in San Juan Baustista and Union Road on the outskirts of Hollister, this latter improve.
Comments? Questions? Corrections? E-mail Jeff Waller (email@example.com)