Jeff's Streets Page
The Fishhook (Hwy 1/Hwy 17)--The Delays In Redesign
The Fishhook has been hit with many problems since the initial push to get it rebuilt. The following is a chronology up through the present of the process to rebuild the Fishhook.
- 1988--Santa Cruz County Regional Transporation Commission (SCCRTC) votes to work towards persuading Caltrans to rebuild the Fishhook, as the interchange has five times the number of accidents as the state average for similar interchanges.
- 1990--SCCRTC, after much lobbying, is successful in getting state funding for the Fishhook project and gaining a slot on the official state highway construction project list.
- 1995--Caltrans produces two alternatives for the project, alternatives A ($50 million) and B (the low-cost alternative, $45 million). Review sessions are set up for public review of and input into the project. While a few people question the need for redesigning the interchange, most people perfer alternative A (as determined from an informal Santa Cruz County Sentinel newspaper call-in poll and a couple of public forums hosted by Caltrans), including the Santa Cruz City Council, who perfer the fact that A, like the current Fishhook configuration, has a direct ramp for tourists onto Ocean Street for travel to the beach and the Boardwalk amusement park.
- 1996--After not much occurring on the project for a while, and after much poking and prodding of Caltrans by Santa Cruz County governmental officials, Caltrans pledges to begin the demolition phase of the project by the year 2000.
- Spring 1997--Caltrans unveils the final draft of the project, a slightly refined version of alternative A. Review sessions are set up for public review of the project. The projected cost of the first phase of the project is set at around $30 million. Mid County residents generally like the project, but Santa Cruz city residents of the neighborhoods near the fishhook object to the 40-foot tall flyover ramp (from Southbound 17 to Southbound 1) and extensive use of soundwalls. These residents form an action group called Coalition for an Improved Fishhook, and lobby the city council for a lowering of the flyover, due to their fear of anticipated adverse noise and visual impacts from the project.
- Summer 1997--Santa Cruz City Council sides with the Coalition and asks Caltrans to lower the flyover, citing the current design as a design less suited for Santa Cruz and more suited for San Jose or Los Angeles. The Council also asks Caltrans to consider simply using additional lighting, signage, and lane restriping to fix the interchange, a suggestion created by the Coalition.
- Fall 1997--Caltrans returns with a modified Fishhook design featuring a 20-foot flyover ramp which connects with Southbound Highway 1 from the left instead of the right side of the freeway as in the previous design. The cost of the entire project jumps to $66 million for the new design. The Coalition for an Improved Fishhook feels that this design is also inadequate and questions the need for rebuilding the intersection at all.
- Mid Fall 1997--The City Council votes to oppose construction of the Fishhook project, due to the high cost of the newest proposal. The Council suggests that the city and county portions of the funding should be shifted to other various city and county projects, including retrofitting city bridges and funding a tow truck service on Highway 1. The Council also reiterates its suggestion of using additional lighting, signage, and lane restriping to fix the interchange.
- Early 1998--Caltrans unveils a project to restripe the Fishhook ramp down to only one lane as an interim solution to the project.
- March 1998--In a poll conducted by the city of Santa Cruz and published in the Santa Cruz County Sentinel, when asked which city issues they feel are most important, 41% of the city residents polled said that they felt traffic congestion was the most important problem facing the city. When asked to rate which specific issues they thought were "very serious," 55% cited traffic congestion. Both percentages were higher than any other issue, including housing, greenbelt land, and crime.
- April 1998--Caltrans reveals a few more details to its interim solution for repair of the Fishhook. During Summer 1998, Caltrans plans to implement its restriping project along Northbound Highway 1, which will create an exit-only right lane from Northbound Highway 1 onto Northbound Highway 17, and a straight-only left lane from Northbound Highway 1 onto Southbound Highway 17 (the Fishhook ramp). The entire Fishhook bridge and ramp will be restriped as only one lane, eliminating the merging between the leftmost Fishhook lane and the rightmost Highway 17 lane. Additional signs will also be placed at other parts of the interchange, alerting drivers to the dangers and common traffic problems of that area. Other plans, including widening the Highway 1 bridge over the San Lorenzo River and widening both highways to three lanes in each direction for up to a mile leading to and from the interchange are also being worked on by Caltrans for presentation to the SCCRTC for future review. (This plan is called Option E by Caltrans.) Opponents of the original Fishhook plan consider this vindication for their position, but Caltrans considers the restriping and signs to be only a temporary measure until the interchange is eventually rebuilt.
- May 1998--SCCRTC, on a 5-4 vote (with one Commission member not in attendance), rejects all of the new Caltrans-proposed fixes to the interchange (Option E), namely widening the Highway 1 bridge over the San Lorenzo River and widening both highways to three lanes in each direction approaching and leaving the interchange. (The Caltrans proposal to add signs and restripe the actual fishhook ramp lanes was not a decision under the Commission's jurisdiction, and will be implemented in the Summer.) While many of the people who spoke at the meeting wondered why nothing has been done about the interchange yet and felt that at least these interim solutions should be implemented until the interchange is eventually rebuilt, Commission member Mike Rotkin (also a Santa Cruz city councilman) spoke for the members who voted against all the proposals by stating that the current congestion has actually reduced the severity of the accidents occuring in the interchange, and that the proposed changes would only increase congestion in other areas. Rotkin also added "I don't think any of these solutions will fix the problem." Other commission members also were fearful that the proposed widening of Highway 1 for an aproximately 1-mile stretch before the interchange was the first step in the long-debated Highway 1 widening project (widening the freeway from 4 to 6 lanes between Santa Cruz and Watsonville, a length of approximately 20 miles). Commissioner Bart Cavallaro, a councilmember in Scotts Valley (4 miles north of Santa Cruz along Highway 17), speaking on behalf of the minority on the commission, stated "If we do nothing, we sit in thought, then a major liability will come our way because we've done nothing." The money originally appropriated to the interchange project, $30.8 million, will now be redistributed to other transportation projects throughout the county. (Quotes and information from "Commission rejects Fishhook improvements," Santa Cruz County Sentinel, May 19, 1998.)
- May 20, 1998--On May 20, 1998, the day after the SCCRTC decided to scrap plans to make changes to the interchange, the Santa Cruz County Sentinel published an editorial condemning the Commission's decision. The newspaper expresses its disagreement and disappointment with the SCCRTC's decision, and the reasons used to defend its positions.
- June 3, 1998 -- The Santa Cruz County Sentinel published an editorial trying to persuade the SCCRTC to reconsider its vote to kill the Fishhook project. The editorial delt with the fact that a second vote must be conducted to finalize any decision, and that a reversal could be made then, if the commissioners decide one was necessary. The editorial openly asked Supervisor Jeff Almquist, who then represented the San Lorenzeo Valley communities along the Highway 9 corridor (see Santa Cruz County map), to change his vote and thus keep the Fishhook project on track.
- June 4, 1998--The SCCRTC, on a suggestion from Supervisor Jan Beautz, votes unanimously to postpone any final vote on the project until a further study of county transportation projects can be completed. Many major businesses within the city and county express concerns over the possible elimination of the project, including representatives from RMC Lonestar of Davenport (a major cement-making company), Silicon Systems (a major data storage and computer networking company), Chaminade Conference Center, and Granite Rock (a major construction and soil/rock supply company). RMC Lonestar representative Ken Kannegaard said, "We have waited a long time for some work on this intersection. We know that it is needed. To think that it may not occur is not acceptable." The resolution passed by the commission puts off a final decision on the project until the completion of the current countywide "Major Transportation Investment Study", which, at that time, was expected to be completed in Fall 1998, and until a new task force can be established which will be charged with writing safety goals for the Highway 1 and 17 corridors and the current Fishhook interchange. The latter suggestion in the proposal was made by Supervisor and Commission-member Mardi Warmhoudt. (Quotes and information from a Santa Cruz County Sentinel article published June 5, 1998.)
- June 5, 1998 -- The Santa Cruz County Sentinel published an editorial endorcing the Commission's latest decision on the Fishhook project.
- July 1998--Caltrans begins adding additional signage to the intersection, installing a very large sign that reads "Merging Traffic Ahead Keep Right" on Southbound Highway 1 just before the merge with the ramp from Southbound Highway 17.
- August 26, 1998--The Santa Cruz Action Network (a progressive Santa Cruz City political group, also known as SCAN) and two local unions announce support for 3 of the 8 people running for 3 open positions on the Santa Cruz City Council. In a flier handed out at the public interview session held by SCAN, the three endorced candidates--Christopher Krohn, Keith Sugar, and Timothy Fitzmaurice--cite their stances against, among other issues, widening Highways 1 or 17. All three candidates are later elected to the Santa Cruz City Council in November 1998.
- November 5, 1998--Caltrans holds a forum on the options for Highway 1, including widening and Fishhook improvements. Caltrans also announes that it plans to wait until June 1999 before restriping the Fishhook ramp to one lane (as opposed to the earlier-proposed Summer 1998 plan).
- November 7, 1998--The Santa Cruz County Sentinel reports that December 3rd is the date the Transportation Commission has set for final review of the Fishhook project. At that time, they will determine whether to start immediately with some version of the project, hold off any decision on the Fishhook until after a master plan for county transportation based on the recent Major Transportation Investment Study is adopted (which will delay the Fishhook project by at least 6 months), or procede with killing the project once and for all.
- November 15 and 29, 1998--The Santa Cruz County Sentinel solicits letters from the public regarding their views on the Fishhook debate. 78 of the 89 letters received advocated fixing the Fishhook, and the vast majority of those were in favor of widening Highway 1.
- December 3, 1998--The Transportation Commission votes 6-4 to accept the improvments suggested by the safety taskforce. The proposed improvements are:
- Widening Highway 1 Southbound to three lanes between Highway 17 and just beyond Morrissey Bl.
- Widening Northbound Highway 1 to three lanes between Morrissey and Highway 17, including rebuilding the Emiline Street ramp
- Widening Highway 17 Northbound to three lanes between Highway 1 and Pasatiempo
- Widening the ramp from Northbound Highway 1 to Northbound Highway 17 to two lanes
- Lowering the speed limit of Highway 1 in both directions from 65 to 55 MPH between Highway 17 and the North Branciforte overcrossing
- Continued support for Caltrans' plans to restripe the Fishhook ramp (North 1 to South 17) from two to one lane, which will begin in Spring 1999
The four dissenting votes came from three Santa Cruz city councilmembers (newly-elected mayor Katherine Beiers, Mike Rotkin, and newly-elected councilman Tim Fitzmaurice) and Supervisor Mardi Warmhoudt, who all felt that this proposal was simply a widening project, not an interchange improvement, and would not help improve safety or congestion in the area. The six members who voted yes all felt that this project would help congestion and was not the start of a full-scale widening project, contrary to the dissenters' fear. The funding for these projects will be the $31 million originally earmarked for the Fishhook demolition and reconstruction project, and construction will begin in the year 2004, after completion of an environmental inpact report and determination of the feasibility of the Southbound 1 widening proposal. It shall be noted that the majority of the approved projects were part of the previously rejected Option E, a Caltrans proposal that also included other widening projects on the highways leading to the interchange, much of which was originally part of Caltrans' original plan for the Fishhook.
- March 5, 1999--The Santa Cruz County Business Council, along with the supportive members of the Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission, declared their desire to have Caltrans move up the start date of the narrowly-approved widening project at the Fishhook. They feel that the 2004 start date and 2006 end date for the project are ridiculous, and will lobby for a 2002 start date.
- March 27 and 28, 1999--Caltrans finally restripes the Fishhook ramp to one lane as proposed earlier.
- May 15, 1999--Caltrans, in a letter to the SCCRTC, reported that since the restriping change at the Fishhook, accidents at the North 1-South 17 merge have been completely eliminated. However, accidents on Northbound 1 between Morrissey and Highway 17 have tripled. In addition, congestion increased on Highway 1 between 41st and Soquel Avenues, due to the confusion over restriping. Caltrans will make its recommendations as to whether or no to make the restriping permanent at the June 3rd meeting of the SCCRTC.
- June 3, 1999--At today's SCCRTC meeting, Caltrans reports to the commission that the problems cited earlier due to the restriping of the Fishhook have not gone away over time. In addition to those problems, Caltrans also mentioned that congestion on Highway 1 Northbound is occuring between 1 and 4 PM when it never occured before the change. The accidents were attributed to variations in speed between the two Northbound lanes, as caused by the restriping. Caltrans sees no signs that these problems will diminish if the restriping is made permanent, and that the change showed no net benefit in safety. As a result, Caltrans recommended changing the Fishhook ramp back to the way it was, and the SCCRTC agreed, voting unanimously to end the restriping experiment. The lanes will be returned to normal within the next month. Caltrans also pledges to come up with more ideas for making the ramp safer, such as moving the median barrier slightly, adding permanent traffic volume counters for gathering more data from the interchange, and possibly making all four lanes of South 17/North 1 pass under the Fishhook bridges, eliminating the merge for both Fishhook ramp lanes without eliminating lanes on Southbound Highway 17.
- July 16-18, 1999--Caltrans restripes the Fishhook ramp and Northbound 1 back to its original two lanes.
- July 22, 1999--Caltrans takes aerial photographs of the Fishhook interchange as a first step in the design process for widening Highway 1 and Highway 17 near the Fishhook, as approved by the SCCRTC back in December.
- July 30, 1999--Caltrans announces that the projected start date for the widening of Highway 1 and Highway 17 through the Fishhook has been moved up from May 2004 to September 2003 (or even possibly Spring 2003) due to federal approval of a shorter, more streamlined environmental impact report (EIR) process for the project.
- November 4, 1999--SCCRTC Commissioner and county supervisor Mardi Warmhoudt expresses her concerns to Caltrans about the streamlined EIR report, feeling that Caltrans is simply "kissing off" a full EIR. She feels that a full EIR is necessary to study the full environmental impact of the project. After reassurances from Caltrans that this is not their intention, and that they will comply with the letter of both the state and federal laws, Warmhoudt says she is now at ease with the current EIR process. Caltrans also announces that it will be scrapping plans for making the ramp from Northbound 1 to Northbound 17 a 2-lane ramp. Caltrans says that this decision was prompted by safety concerns over a 2-lane merge and lack of visibility in the area. It is uncertain if this will have any impact on the lane configurations for Northbound 1 and Northbound 17 in the vicinity of the ramp.
- November 17, 1999--Caltrans holds a forum to publicly unveil their auxiliary lane proposal. This proposal (as shown on this map) includes the following changes to the lane configurations of Highways 1 and 17:
- New third lane (becoming the new rightmost lane) on Northbound 1, beginning at the Morrissey Bl. onramp, and ending at the Northbound 17 exit
- Northbound 17 exit from Northbound 1 will be reconfigured such that vehicles in either the new third lane or the existing right lane will be able to exit onto Northbound 17, resulting in two lanes being able to exit. However, after a few hundred feet, the ramp will narrow back down to one lane before merging onto Northbound 17
- New third lane (becoming the new rightmost lane) on Northbound 17 beginning at the onramp from Northbound 1, and ending at Pasatiemo Dr. (unsure exactly where the lane will end--could be at the offramp, or between the offramp and the Pasatiempo bridge overcrossing)
- New third lane (becoming the rightmost lane) will be added to Southbound 1 between the onramp from Southbound 17 and 0.5 miles beyond Morrissey Boulevard (somewere between Morrissey Bl. and La Fonda Ave. overcrossings)
- Southbound 1 lanes will be reconfigured at the merge with the onramp from Southbound 17 such that the new third lane and the new center lane (existing rightmost lane) will carry Highway 1 traffic coming from River Street, while the leftmost lane (existing leftmost lane) will carry only traffic from the onramp from Southbound 17.
- The ramp from Southbound 17 to Southbound 1 will retain its current lane configuration (one lane when exiting Southbound 17, two lanes on the bridge over Highway 17, then back to 1 lane before merging with Southbound 1 traffic)
- The Emeline Ave., Branciforte Creek, Carbonera Creek, Market St., N. Branciforte Ave., and Morrissey Bl. bridges will all be partially reconstructed in order to accomodate the new lanes that travel over and under them. In addition, new retaining walls and sound walls will be built alongside both freeways. These walls were the hottest topic at the Caltrans forum, and will be further discussed at 3 future meetings focussing on nearby neighborhood concerns
- January-February 2002--Caltrans releases its Intial Study and Envronmental Assessment report for the merge lanes concept. The project definition has changes slightly from its inception (see above). The project will require a complete rebuilding of the Emiline Avenue offramp, which would exit Northbound Highway 1 at the North Branciforte Avenue overcrossing instead of just beyond the Carbonera Creek bridge. The new Emiline ramp would include new bridge(s) over Branciforte and Carbonera Creeks. The new Highway 17 offramp would exit Northbound 1 about where the Emiline ramp is today. The merge/auxiliary lane on Northbound 17 would extend past the Pasatiempo offramp and merge back into the other lanes just before the Pasatiempo overcrossing. The Morrissey on and offramps along Southbound Highway 1 would be reconstructed to provide additional acceleration/deceleration distances on the ramps and accomodate the new through lane. The Southbound Highway 1 mainline lanes coming from River Street/Highway 9 would be realigned slightly to merge with the lanes from the Southbound Highway 17 offramp between Carbonera and Branciforte Creeks, as opposed to over Emiline, where they curently merge. Curiously, in what appears to be a typo, Caltrans also shows that the Southbound Highway 1 connection would only be one lane instead of the current two, although the width of the roadway shown in the report figure is identical to other roadways labeled as two lanes wide. Finally, sound walls would be constructed along the entire length of the project (along both Highways 1 and 17), and would be hiden by new vegetation and a possible mural or two on the freeway sides. This report is available for public download at www.dot.ca.gov/dist05/projects. (Note that the file is 18.5 MB, and may take a while to download via slower Internet connections.) Construction is set to begin in 2004.
- July-October 2004--Caltrans announces that it will not begin construction as scheduled. Caltrans rules prohibit purchase of any right-of-way for a state highway unless the state has secured all of the money necessary to perform the widening. Unfortuately, the state legislature has not listed the interchange project as a high-priority project, and therefore the project will not likely secure enough funding for all of the right-of-way acquisitions. Construction is now set for August 2005.
- February 2005--The San Jose Mercury News columnist Gary Richards (a.k.a. "Mr. Roadshow") once again hosted a vote of the newspaper's readers regarding what they felt are the "worst interchanges" in the South Bay and East Bay, and the Fishhook ranked 10th out of the 12 highest interchanges. The problems with the interchange, as described by Mr. Roadshow himself: "The fishhook mess; tight curves, not enough lanes on ramp." In addition, Caltrans now notes that right-of-way acquisition is anticipated to be completed in June-July 2005, and, pending finalization of funding from the state, construction would start in late 2005/early 2006 and last 3 years.
- September/October 2005--Caltrans and the SCCRTC are successful in obtaining the necessary state funds for the merge lanes project. Bids for the project will go out in November, with a contractor selected in February 2006. Caltrans also sets its new construction schedule, whereby tree removal will start in December 2005 or January 2006, and construction will begin in March 2006.
- December 2005--The San Jose Mercury News columnist Gary Richards (a.k.a. "Mr. Roadshow") hosted, for the second time this year, a vote of the newspaper's readers regarding what they felt are the "worst interchanges" in the South Bay and East Bay, and, once again, the Fishhook makes the list. This time, the Highway 1/17 interchange was ranked 9th out of the 12 worst interchanges, up from 10th in February 2005.
- January 2006--Caltrans announces that it will begin removal of the trees lining Highway 1 within the construction zone around the end of the month.
- February 2006--The bids for the auxiliary lane improvements come in at least $7 million over the available funding. Caltrans decides to go forward anyway, anticipating that the California Transportation Commission will provide the additional funding. (In late February 2006, the California Transportation Commission provides the necessary additional funding.) The removal of trees lining Highway 1 between roughly Highway 17 and N. Branciforte Avenue begins, and is nearly completed by the end of the month.
- April 2006--Ground is officially broken on the project, in a ceremony on April 19th.
- Late December 2006/Early January 2007--Caltrans announced a delay in the expected completion of the project, from the timeframe of Spring 2009 announced prior to the start of construction, to the new timeframe of Fall 2009.
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