Santa Cruz County

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Santa Cruz County Transportation Plan: Highway 1

Highway 1As I mentioned on the previous page, diversity of transportation moades is the key to managing our transportation woes. This must include, no matter how disastrous it may sound to some people, widening Highway 1 to 3 lanes in each direction. The automobile is and will be a part of our lives for many years to come, and ignoring that fact is simply foolish. However, simply widening the highway won't fix everything--mass transit must also be a part of the equation. Plus, as shown in the MTIS, widening of Highway 1 will be a very expensive operation, and will most likely take many years to complete. Still, it took us more than a few years and a few dollars to get to where our transportation sytem to where it is now, and it will take many years and much money to get us back on the right track.

Previously in these pages, I included background and personal comments on the history of the widening effort. That information can be viewed back on my main Santa Cruz page.

Highway 1 Widening:

In my opinion, probably the best-case scenario would be for Highway 1 to be widened to 6 lanes between Highway 17 and Freedom Boulevard (on the outskirts of Aptos). Traffic can be heavy that far out from Santa Cruz during many times of the day. However, as the original highway was built back in the 1940's and 50's, much work would need to be done to many of the bridges that cross over the highway in order to accomodate the extra lanes. Plus, there is little desire from some members of the community for full-scale widening, and the cost of such a project was shown by the MTIS to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Thus, I think that the best way to widen the highway would be to mimic the changes made some years ago to I-280 between San Jose and Sunnyvale--add a third lane between exits, but make the third lane an exit-only lane at each exit, so to minimize the need to rebuild the bridges. At the on-ramp merge, the on ramps would then form their own third lane, continuing on up to the next exit. This extra lane would then become what is known as an "auxiliary lane". This would also help with the fact that many of the ramps onto and off of Highway 1 are very short, as drivers would have a longer distance to speed up to freeway speeds on the onramps or slow down on the offramps, both of which increase safety. This auxiliary lane idea is similar to one of Caltrans' proposed plans. It is important to note that these auxiliary lanes are not carpool or HOV lanes. They would be located on the right-hand edge of each side of the roadway. (HOV lanes would require widening in the median over a long, continuous span of freeway.) In many cases, the lack of space would require paving the median, using the median as the left lane, the existing left lane as the right/middle lane, and the existing right lane as the auxiliary lane. I advocate preserving the median as it is in as many places as possible in case money becomes available for HOV lanes over the entire length of Highway 1, or for future light rail projects.

Specifically, I first propose widening Highway 1 to 6 lanes between Highway 17 and Soquel Drive. This section is the most congested and heavily-traveled of any segment of Highway 1 in the county. As proposed in Caltrans' Fishhook proposal and as resurected in the plan approved back in December 1998 by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC), my plan would include a third lane to be added in each direction of Highway 1 between Highway 17 and Morrissey Bl. The new lane would become an extension of the rightmost lane from Southbound 1 at the Fishhook. This would require rebuilding the Emiline Street offramp from Northbound 1 (perhaps relocating it to exit directly onto parallel frontage road Lee Street), as well as the North Branciforte Avenue overcrossing and possibly the Morrissey Bl. overcrossing. The new southbound lane would, in my plan, continue out to Soquel Drive, becoming on exit-only lane at the Soquel Drive interchange. Ending the auxiliary lane at Soquel Drive not only is necessary due to the large volume of traffic exiting at this ramp, but also doesn't require rebuilding the Soquel Drive overcrossing. Northbound, the third lane would start at the eastbound Soquel Drive onramp to North 1 and continue up to the Morrissey offramp. The (surprisingly, to me anyway) high traffic volume exiting North 1 at Morrissey requires, in my judgement, that the auxiliary lane become an exit-only lane exiting at Morrissey. The third lane begins again at the Morrissey onramp, and continues out to Highway 17, where it is an exit-only ramp onto North 17.

Soquel Drive ImprovementsPreferably as part of this project, the intersection at Soquel Drive, as previously mentioned, should be rebuilt. I propose what is depicted in the graphic to the right. The ramp would be realigned to exit several hundred feet south of where it exits now, intersecting Soquel Drive and lining up with a slightly realigned Soquel Avenue (the frontage road). The old offramp would be removed. The onramp onto South 1 would be slightly realigned and the signal phasing changed to lengthen the ramp and decrease congestion in the area from people trying to get on the freeway. Perhaps also a loop ramp from westbound Soquel Drive onto South 1 would help, as it would take away some of the traffic from the other ramp, but I did not include it in my proposal because there is not enough room to fit in, at least not without substantial displacement of existing businesses.

I would next continue the auxiliary lanes Southbound from the Soquel Drive onramp to the 41st Avenue offramp. Northbound, I'd create the auxiliary lane from the North 41st Avenue onramp onto North 1 out to the Soquel Drive exit. These decisions are no-brainers, because of the high traffic volumes on the freeway and ramps, and the wide median and shoulders along this section of the freeway.

For the next section, auxiliary lanes already exist between 41st Avenue and Bay Avenue/Porter Street. This span is not long enough for adequate merging, so I would eliminate the exit-/enter-only nature of the lanes by extending them northbound and southbound out to Park Avenue. The Highway 1 bridge over Bay Avenue/Porter Street is already widened to 6 lanes (although it's striped as 4), but the narrow Capitola Avenue overcrossing will need to be widened, and more right-of-way space will be needed between Capitola Avenue and Park Avenue to accomodate the widening.

After Park Avenue, traffic does reduce some. However, some segments do and in the future will require widening. I suggest at least for now creating an exit-only auxiliary lane southbound starting about half-way to State Park Drive and exiting at State Park Drive. This is because the traffic volume on this ramp is as high as the volume exiting at Park Avenue. I also would add a third lane Northbound from the Freedom Bl. offramp to just beyond the Rio Del Mar Bl. onramp, and Southbound from the Rio Del Mar onramp to just beyond the Freedom Bl. onramp to allow more room for merging between these busy and closely-spaced interchanges.

Some people have brought up the idea of using metering lights for the onramps to Highway 1. I've personally never have been a big fan of metering lights--in some cases they can be helpful, but in the majority of cases they only move the backup from the freeway to the originating street or highway. With the short ramps and large ramp volumes on many of the onramps to Highway 1, metering lights will probably only serve to increase congestion on local streets.

As I keep mentioning ("...and mentioning and mentioning..." you're probably saying), diversity is key for our transportation network to function efficiently now and into the future. In the next section I will discuss the compliment to this road system, which is a revamped bus system.

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Highway 1 shield courtesy Joel Windmiller.