Santa Cruz County

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Santa Cruz Streets

The following are issues relating to Santa Cruz Santa Cruz County, California. The main focus of this section is devoted to the Fishhook, the local name for the intersection of State Highways 1 and 17. But, I have also included other local traffic issues as well.

Santa Cruz County:

Santa Cruz (city):

Santa Cruz County:

History and Recent Developments in Highway 1 Widening Proposal
(based previous versions of this page)

Hwy. 1In conjunction with the rebuilding of the Fishhook, Caltrans has proposed widening the Highway 1 freeway between Highway 17 and the eastern outskirts of Santa Cruz from 4 to 6 lanes. The project is part of a push by both Caltrans and many Mid County residents (which began back in 1988) to widen the highway to 6 lanes for almost the entire length of the freeway inside Santa Cruz County. I agree with them, especially in the section proposed by Caltrans, as that part of the freeway is one of the most heavily-traveled segments of Highway 1 in the state, at about 100,000 cars per day at Highway 17 (surpassed by only San Francisco), as counted by Caltrans in 1998. The highway is the most direct way to get across Santa Cruz County, which is necessary for all county residents, as all the county services are spread out all over the place. The main shopping area in the county is at the Capitola Mall in Mid County, the county courthouse and government center are located near downtown Santa Cruz, and the population is spread out fairly evenly between North and Mid County, with Watsonville, in South County, pretty-well cut off from the rest of the county via a no-man's land of hills and brush, best accessed via Highway 1. (In fact, Highway 1 already varies from 4 to 5 lanes between Watsonville and Seascape due to the climbing lanes for the steep hills between the two areas.) This project would be very beneficial to the county, eliminating the bottlenecks that constantly occur on the highway, especially during the morning and evening commutes and during high shopping periods. The highway in its current state is not doing a very good job handling today's traffic volumes based on future traffic volume projections made in the 1940's and 50's . ...

As for the official governmental plans, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) had a consulting firm work on various solutions for improving trafic throughout the county, including widening Highway 1 and re-introducing commuter rail along the Southern Pacific rail line. In late August 1998, the consultant's report found that no one solution will help alieviate the traffic problems of Santa Cruz County, no matter how much money is spent. Widening Highway 1 will cost $280 million and will not increase capacity by more than a few percent, but will reduce travel time between Capitola and Santa Cruz by about two minutes. Introducing a new rail line between Capitola and Santa Cruz will cost $10 million just to upgrade the existing track and will lose an estimated $600,000 every year. The reluctantly-endorced solution by the consultants is to use the right-of-way alongside of the tracks as a bus and/or bicycle throughway and to add weekend train service between San Jose and Santa Cruz via Gilroy, at a combined cost of $100 million to build and $50 million annually to maintain. In fact, the report finds that by the year 2015, the traffic volume on Highway 1 between Park Avenue in Capitola and Highway 17 in Santa Cruz will exceed 170% of its current capacity, Santa Cruz County's population will increase 28% between 1990 and 2015, the total time spent on the road by motorists (i.e. traffic congestion) will increase by 119% between 1990 and 2015, and no one solution will decrease congestion by more than 3.3%. ...

On November 5th, 1998, Caltrans made a new proposal to the Transportation Commission about the options for Highway 1. The suggestions were to:

The total cost for all three options is about $25 million. The Transportation Commission members from Santa Cruz objected to the auxiliary lanes, declaring them just another word for widening and leading to increased growth. However, a small portion of those auxiliary lanes, between Highway 17 and Morrissey, were approved back in December 1998 by the Transportation Commission (on a 6-4 vote) as an attempt to help fix the Fishhook (Highways 1-17 interchange) in Santa Cruz. (Some information from Santa Cruz County Sentinel)

Another major even in this continuing saga occurred on July 1st, 1999, where the SCCRTC voted on which of their individual 50-plus transportation proposals they would keep on the table for possible future funding. Only 24 makde the initial cut, with the following having some relation to Highway 1:

On August 5th, 1999, the SCCRTC met once again to review these and other options. The commission approved funding for improved bus service, increased bike lanes countywide, buying up the railroad right of way for a bike path, and a Caltrans study on the feasibility of HOT lanes Highway 1. In early 2001, the SCCRTC selected a firm to perform the HOT lane feasibility study. Within this study, a precursor to the final Project Study Report for Highway 1 improvements, the following alternatives approved in April 2000 by the commission will be reviewed:

In August 2001, the Santa Cruz Sentinel had a special article dedicated to the HOT lane issue. The article discusses the end results of the two HOT lane projects currently in operation in California, on Highways 91 in Orange County and Insterstate 15 in northern San Diego. Studies of the two projects found that utilization of the lanes was mostly by people of higher incomes (further evidence, some might say, of the validity of the term "Lexus Lanes"), and that the HOT lanes did little to reduce congestion in the mixed-flow lanes. However, it should be noted, as it was in the article, that this is the way that HOT lanes work--the tolls allow you to pay your way out of congestion, therefore the largest utilization only occurs during the highest congestion periods.

Also in August 2001, the consultant reviewing the HOT lanes idea presented a preliminary report to the Commission. The scope had been narrowed to a handful of options, all of which do not include direct ramps from the HOT lanes to existing interchanges along Highway 1.

In December 2001, Caltrans publicly discussed its concerns over the project, as well as a propable time line for implementation. In Caltrans' eyes, (and mine, too), the hardest portion to widen in any form (HOT, HOV, or regular mixed-flow lanes) would be between the 41st Avenue and Bay Avenue/Porter Street interchanges. The distance between these interchanges is already substandard, and widening would only make the problem worse. Caltrans theorizes that the ramps would need to be interwoven one on top of another. Caltrans also believes that just the environmental work for the widening as a whole would take about 8 years, excluding preliminary and final designs. Costs for the project are estimated at $100 to $200 million. The Commission is expected to recommend a one-half percent sales tax to pay for some of the project. When brought up by Commissioner Marti Warmhoudt in November 2001, the tax was defeated, but is expected to go up for a countywide vote in November 2003. In March 2002, the Commission voted to put the sales tax on the ballot for the November 2002 election instead.

The April 2002 Commission meeting was very eventfull with respect to the HOT lanes project. A representative of Wilbur Smith, the company analyzing the HOT lane options, stated that the 50+ original alternatives have been reduced to two - 1) striped HOT lanes with one entrance and one exit, and 2) striped HOT lanes with entrance/exit at each end and intermediate entrance and exit near 41st Avenue. Both alternatives would feature one HOT lane in each direction. This decision is important for a few reasons. First of all, the HOT lanes would be striped instead of physically separated from the regular travel lanes - which could have enforcement implications as well as effect the way that vehicles would be checked for verification of tolls.

At the May 2002 Commission meeting, representatives of companies such as Granite Construction presented the option of using a design/build or similar process to speed up design and construction of the widening project. Design/Build is where one firm both designs and builds a project in close association with the agency overseeing the project, allowing parts of each phase to be implemented concurrently. State law does not allow Caltrans to implement projects with the design/build process without special legislation. However, representatives of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District stated that they are allowed to enter into design/build processes, and widening with HOT or HOV lanes would help improve transit travel times across the County. The Transit District floated the idea of creating a joint-powers authority with the Commission in order to oversee and fund the widening project. About one week later, Caltrans announced that the timeline for the environmental review of the freeway widening could be shortened from the previous 8-year estimate to just 5 years. Caltrans estimates the following timeline for completing the project:

Another major milestone in the project's history occurred in June 2002, when the HOT lane concept was abandoned. First, some background. The initial HOT lanes feasibility study was released in April 2002, and was subsequently sent out for comment from the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and San Diego Association of Governments (SanDAG), two agencies within California that currently have HOT lanes within their jurisdictions. In June 2002, Caltrans released its two Project Study Reports on the widening project. One report focused on adding one lane in each direction of Highway 1 over the entire length of the segment between State Park Drive and Morrissey Boulevard (either in the form of a regular lane, an HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle, or carpool) lane, or an HOT (High-Occupancy Toll) lane). The other focused on adding auxiliary lanes (regular lanes added only between interchanges) over that same segment. All reports found the studied options to be feasible, although one of the Caltrans PSR's stated Caltrans reluctance to endorce HOT lanes without approval from the state legislature. The HOT lanes initial study found that the project would have a net profit, but that profit would vary depending on the configuration of the lanes (i.e number and accessibility). The RCTC and SanDAG reviewers raise concerns regarding the ability to enforce tolls and HOV requirements if striped, continous access is provided versus physcially separating the HOT lanes from the other lanes, and thought the revenue forcasts may be a little high compared to their experience with the I-15 HOT lanes in San Diego County. In July 2002, the Commission was presented with the above reports and comments, and subsequently voted to end further study of the HOT lanes concept, choosing to instead pursue HOV lanes in all future widening analyses.

There were some other interesting conclusions and recommendations in the two Caltrans PSRs. Caltrans says that the widening project would involve the modification of six interchanges and ten structures. The first PSR, focussing on full-scale widening, also included some new proposals to be combined with the widening. Right on the first page, Caltrans notes that "traffic analysis has also shown the need to extend the limits for the widening of the southbound lanes to the overcrossing at Larkin Avenue" (likely referring to the bridge over San Andreas Road/Larkin Valley Road near Seascape). Caltrans feels that an addtional study for the segment of Highway 1 between State Park Drive and San Andreas/Larkin Valley should be performed in the future, although the federal government may require the entire segment out to Seascape be part of this widening study.

Three new pedestrian bridges would be constructed as part of the widening project:

Caltrans also notes that safety on the Highway 1 corridor is a concern, and has a corrective strategy to improve safety. This includes:

In addition, Caltrans proposes to widen the following overcrossings in order to add or widen the existing sidewalks and shoulders for pedestrian and bicycle use:

The major problem area for construction would be between the 41st and Bay/Porter interchanges in Capitola. The aviailable weaving distance does not currently meet Caltrans standards, and the necessary ramp adjustments at the two interchanges would result in a reduction in that distance. Caltrans one proposed interweaving the two sets of ramps (i.e. having one ramp go over the other), but Capitola residents were against eliminating direct access between the ramps, as it would remove one of the east-west inter-city connector routes (the Stockton Avenue bridges and Soquel Drive are the other two) across town. Caltrans then considered braided ramps with an extension of Auto Plaza Drive (the southern frontage road) to Bay Stree, but found that the grade down across Soquel Creek would be too steep, requiring 115 feet of retaining wall. Instead, Caltrans is proposing a collector-distributor system, whereby all of the on and off ramps at 41st and Bay/Porter would be connected to a collector road, a one-to-two lane, one-way roadway that would parallel the freeway, thereby taking all merging activity off of the mainline highway and onto the collector road. Two collector roads would be built, one for each direction of the highway. The collector-distributor concept would thereby improve mainline highway traffic flow, by removing the merging from the highway, and improve ramp merging opportunity by reducing the amount of conflicting traffic merging traffic must yield to in order to change lanes. Below is a conceptual drawing comparing the exising ramp configurations to what a collector-distributor system might look like.

41st Avenue - Bay/Porter Collector-Distributor system

Caltrans also proposes adding ramp metering and HOV bypass lanes (i.e. bypassing the ramp meter) on on ramps in the widened area.

The second PSR focuses on just auxiliary lanes (roadway widenings between interchanges). The following auxiliary lanes are proposed:

With the SCCRTC's June 2002 adoption of HOV lanes as the preferred method for widening Highway 1, it is unclear what will happen to the auxiliary lanes proposal, although it is possible that some of the auxiliary segments may be incorportated into the widening project, where feasible, such as between Soquel and Morrissey and between State Park and Park.

(Note: The HOT lanes initial report and both Caltrans Project Study Reports are available for download at the Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission's website:

In its August 1, 2002 meeting, the SCCRTC chose to set asside funding for the environmental review phase of the project, as well as authorized a search for consultants to perform the necessary environmental work. The commission also chose to pursue future widening of Highway 1 in the southbound direction from State Park Drive in Aptos to Larkin Valley Road/San Andreas Road near Seascape.

In May 2004, the SCCRTC created the Highway Construction Authority, a separate agency devoted to oversee the widening and administer its funds. As originally proposed, the authority required the approval of all cities in the county, plus the county board of supervisors and the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (SCMTD). It is the SCMTD's role in this authority that is key, as only they have the right under state law to perform design-build projects, which could speed up construction. All of the above agencies approved the authority, with the exception of the City of Santa Cruz, which refused to even be a part of the agency. Later in the year, the City of Santa Cruz city council, led by then-mayor Scott Kennedy, who was not present at the original vote by the council to refuse agency membership, considered retracting their earlier vote if the SCCRTC voted to use its Proposition 116 money to purchase the Union Pacific rail line. The Council even hosted a public hearing on the issue, where the majority of people in attendance were against the widening. In the end, the council chose to simply stay neutral on the issue, instead of voting for or against the widening and construction authority.

Also in 2004, the SCCRTC voted to place on the November 2004 ballot a 30-year, 1/2-cent sales tax measure to fund the widening. Acknowledging that the tax for the widening would be a hard sell, the SCCRTC bundled other projects into the tax, including additional money for roadway maintenance within the four cities in the county (Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Capitola, and Watsonville), plus construction of a recreation trail along the Union Pacific rail line within the county, express bus service along Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Watsonville, park-and-ride lots and carpool programs, senior transportation programs, Highway 17 safety programs, and the proposed Watsonville Junction train station in Pajaro. The funding was determined to be necessary, in light of the state's major fiscal crisit, and the need to obtain matching funding from the state and federal governments. Unfortunately, the measure was found by many to be too much of a Frankenstein's monster of different projects, and also was competing with other sales tax measures amongst the other cities. The measure, named Measure J, not only failed to get the required 2/3 majority to pass, but didn't even muster a majority of the vote, with only 43% voting "Yes". Where this leaves the widening is uncertain, but likely the planning and design work will continue. Construction will not occur, however, until some sort of funding is secured.

Despite the failure of Measure J, Caltrans is continuing with the design plans for the widening. In an April 2006 meeting of the SCCRTC, Caltrans noted that it anticipates that the preferred design alternative for the widening will be selected in the Fall of 2007, after submittal of the draft environmental impact report for the project. SCCRTC also plans to hold open houses in the Summer of 2006, to review the project more with the public.

Also in the wake of the sales tax measure's failure, the SCCRTC commissioned what it calls the Transportation Funding Task Force. This task force, led by former assemblyman and current county tax collector/treasurer Fred Keeley, was created to gain more public consensus and openly discuss the possible options for improving transportation throughout Santa Cruz County. The group is made up of over 90 members, and is comprised of government officials, local and national organizations, and members of the public. More information on this group can be found at

In May 2006, Nolte Associates, the engineering firm hired by the SCCRTC to design the Highway 1 widening project, announced a new schedule for completion of the design and environmental work associated with the widening project:

The second half of 2006 and early 2007 saw some additional changes regarding the HOV widening. First of all, Caltrans has chosen to extend the northern end of the HOV widening to the North Branciforte Avenue interchange, a northerly extension from its previous defined end near the Morrissey Boulevard interchange. Second, Nolte Associates announced that it will be pursuing designs that would include auxiliary lanes between most of the interchanges along Highway 1. Combined with the HOV widening, this would amount to a total freeway width of between 6 and 8 lanes, depending upon the location. These auxiliary lanes were deemed necessary based upon the future traffic forecasts developed for the project, whose design year is the Year 2035. The auxiliary lanes are envisioned between the following interchanges:

It should be noted that the Morrissey-to-Emiline auxiliary lane is being constructed by the Hwy. 1/17 Merge Lanes improvement, funding for the the Soquel-to-Morrissey, 41st-to-Soquel, and Park-to-Bay/Porter auxiliary lanes are already being pursued by the SCCRTC, and the Bay/Porter-to-41st auxiliary lanes have been previously proposed as collector-distributor lanes that would essentially combine the two interchanges (which may still be how these lanes are constructed).

Nolte also announced a new project schedule, whereby the public circulation of the HOV environmental impact report (EIR) is delayed from Fall 2007 to Spring 2008, the selection of the preferred design alternative is delayed until Summer 2008, and the EIR approval occurs in Winter 2009/Spring 2010.

Highway 1 Bypass of Westside Santa Cruz: Highway 1 Bypass Map

Hwy. 1This is one of my "pie-in-the-sky" solutions to the traffic problems in Santa Cruz and around UCSC. Back in the 1960's, Caltrans proposed creating a freeway bypass of Highway 1 along the Mission Street corridor. The Santa Cruz City Council endorced a proposal which would have paralleled Mission Street to the north, cutting through some neighborhoods along the entire route. The nearby residents appealed this decision all the way to the California Transportation Commission, which sided with the residents and chose their alternative of an alignment on the northern outskirts of town through the recently-opened University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC). However, UCSC strongly objected to this new alignment, and eventually the entire bypass issue was dropped. It is this UCSC alignment that I am resurecting in my proposal.

My bypass would start at the Fishhook, traveling northwest up a small canyon behind the interchange. The freeway would then turn due west and into a tunnel under Graham Hill Road. The freeway would exit the tunnel at a high enough altitude to go over Ocean Street Extension, the San Lorenzo River, and River Street/Highway 9. The first interchange would be at River Street just north of Vernon Street, and would be a standard diamond ramp configuration.

The freeway would continue east through the southernmost portion of the Pogonip Open Space area towards UCSC. To lessen the impact of the freeway, the entire segment through Pogonip will be densely-lined with tall trees reduce visual and noise impacts. Also, the freeway will be elevated with periodic small underpasses (modeled after the one at Wilder Ranch under Highway 1) to allow hikers bikers, and equestrians to pass under the freeway along existing trails.

Highway 1 Elevation SketchThe hillside up to UCSC is rather tall and sheer, and thus I propose the following to make the climb. The nearby graphics should help clarify this explanation. Northbound will require a climbing lane for trucks, which will last for the entire climb. The freeway will head up on an upgrade, but will only reach between 1/2 and 3/4 of the way up the hill when it hits the cliff. The freeway will continue at the present grade until about 1/4 to 1/2 of a mile west of the cliff, where it will level off. Glen Coolidge Drive will remain at its present grade and will cross the freeway on a bridge.

Whether or not an interchange should be built at Glen Coolidge Drive is still up in the air. The good points about it are that it will give good access to the eastern part of the university, and will better spread out the traffic burden of the university between the main and western entrances than just an exit at Empire Grade would. However, the bad points are that the university would have no access control at Glen Coolidge Drive like it can now with the existing entrance configuration, and that with the interchange being more convenient than Empire Grade or Mission Street, it could draw a tremendous amount of traffic from the residences south of the university into the main entrance of the university. However, if one is built, it should be a variation on a diamond, with all ramps on the university side of the cliff.

As I alluded to earlier, next I would continue the freeway out towards Empire Grade. In this section, through a smal valley across the campus, the freeway will be slightly depressed to minimize traffic noise, and will head due east, but with a slight bend towards the south. Pedestrian bridges would be added over the freeway at locations where existing trails and bike paths cross the freeway alignment. Hagar Drive would also get its own overpass over the freeway. All overpasses in this region would have no or little change in elevation, in order to reduce the visual impacts of the freeway. Between the western entrance and the arboretum, the freeway would cross under Empire Grade and a diamond interchange will be built. Empire Grade will not change in elevation, rather the freeway will be lowered down in order to go under.

The freeway is now rapidly turning southward as it heads west, nearly crossing Empire Grade at a right angle. The freeway next heads south southwest, careful to fit between Gray Whale Ranch and High View Drive. The freeway next continues due south along a ridge between two creeks, the western creek being Wilder Creek. This placement sandwiches the freeway between the Bombay Open Space in the city of Santa Cruz and Wilder Ranch State Park, but does not touch or enter either area. Finally, the freeway would reach the existing Highway 1 about halfway between Shaffer Road and the main entrance to Wilder Ranch, at which point the freeway would become an expressway for an at-grade intersection with the existing highway. The expressway would make a sharp turn due west along th existing highway, then reducing down from four to two lanes. At this point, the bypass improvements would end.

As a side note, this bypass creates an interesting dilemma as to what should be done with the existing Highway 1 alignment, especially between Ocean and Mission Streets. What I suggest is to convert the entire alignment, from the junction with the bypass just west of Santa Cruz all the way out to the Fishhook, into Highway 100. I chose this number as on the books at Caltrans, Highway 100 is the name for a highway that would have looped down Ocean Street to the beach/wharf area, up through downtown, and back up Laurel Street towards Mission Street. Since this number's already been asigned to the area, why not use it? (Thanks to Daniel Faigin's California Highways Home Page for some of the information about Highway 100.)

Highway 1/Harkins Slough Road Interchange Improvements:

Hwy. 1The Highway 1/Harkins Slough Road interchange in Watsonville is a half-interchange, with only a northbound off-ramp and southbound on-ramp provided. The Highway 1/Highway 152 interchange, located about a quarter-mile to the north, is its complement, providing only a southbound off-ramp and northbound on-ramp. Together, these two interchanges provide access to Highway 152 (Main Street), Green Valley Road, and Harkins Slough Road. However, one major drawback of the existing ramp configurations is that southbound travelers bound for Harkins Slough Road must take the Highway 152 exit and then turn at the Main Street/Green Valley Road intersection, a busy and traffic-clogged intersection in the city's main retail area. The city has desired a new, direct southbound off-ramp to Harkins Slough Road for decades, in order to provide direct access to Harkins Slough Road from Southbound Highway 1, thereby reducing the need for southbound traffic to travel through the Main/Green Valley intersection. The need for this new ramp has heightened in recent years with the opening of the city's newest high school on Harkins Slough Road, west of Highway 1, in 2005. Opponents of the new off-ramp worry that its construction would allow Watsonville to grow westward towards the ocean, into the largely undeveloped and environmentally sensitive sloughs and marshes between the existing city limits and the coastline. The project has therefore sat on the county's Regional Transportation Plan for years with no action. Recently, however, the City of Watsonville has started to more forcefully advocate for the project. In a March 16, 2005 Santa Cruz Sentinel article, the city noted that it now has all of the necessary funding to construct the project, and is performing analysis to verify the need for the ramps. Pending Coastal Commission approval, the city anticipates design of the ramp to be complete by 2007, with construction completed by 2009.

Highway 152 Bypass of Watsonville:

Hwy. 152Highway 152 begins its journey to the Central Valley in the town of Watsonville. If you're in Santa Cruz County and you want to head out, Highway 152 is one of your choices. While long truck traffic is restricted on Highway 152 due to the many sharp 180-degree turns along Hecker Pass between Watsonville and Gilroy, it is still a major trucking and commute road. Unfortunately, once you reach the outskirts of Watsonville, there is no direct route to the Highway 1 freeway (and vice versa). Highway 152 winds its way down East Lake Street, through one-way streets in downtown, and then northwest up Main Street until finally reaching the freeway at a partial interchange. What I propose is to reroute Highway 152 along some of the county roads that encircle the northeast quadrant of Watsonville.

Near Holohan Road, Highway 152 will turn off of East Lake Street by heading northwest, bypassing a small housing development and some farmhouses, and connecting up with Holohan Road north of the East Lake intersection. Traffic lanes will be biased to continue along the highway--if you need to continue along Holohan or East Lake, you'll be forced to make a right or left turn, depending on which direction you're coming from. Highway 152 will then continue along Holohan and Airport Boulevard (the new street name after passing Green Valley Road) all the way out to Highway 1 at the north end of Watsonville. Holohan Road and Airport Boulevard will need to be upgraded with increased shoulder width and wider lanes, and possibly more lanes (the newly-widened Airport Boulevard west of Freedom Boulevard is a step in the right direction). But I think this change will benefit travelers on Highway 152, as most of them are either coming from or going to Santa Cruz anyways, and the interchange at Airport Boulevard has a full complement of ramps for each direction.

Highway 17/Glenwood Safety Project:

Hwy. 17Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz Mountains is a treacherous roadway to travel in good weather, with its narrow shoulders and many curves. However, it is even more dangerous during rainy weather, when many vehicles lose control due to the combination of high speeds and slippery roadways. Now, Caltrans is proposing an improvement project between north of Laurel Curve and just south of the restaurants near the summit, which would improve safety during the rainy season. Caltrans proposes two improvements -- reconstruction of the center median to improve rainwater drainage, and increasing the shoulders to 8 feet wide. These would be welcome improvements to an area of Highway 17 where fatal accidents are common. In fact, a CHP officer was killed by an out-of-control vehicle while aiding another motorist during an incident in this area around New Year 2006. Caltrans has completed its environmental review of the improvement, and construction is proposed to begin in 2007.

Caltrans is also proposing similar improvements to Highway 17 at Laurel Curve. This improvement would widen and lengthen lanes to Caltrans standards, improve the curvature of the roadway, and rebuild the curve to a uniform radius. Construction of this improvement began in Spring 2006.

Santa Cruz City:

Soquel Avenue/Water Street/Morrissey Boulevard Intersection:

Soquel-WaterSoquel/Water IntersectionThis intersection is one of a handful of 5-way intersections in Santa Cruz, and is one of the most congestion-plagued in the city. The current configuration of the intersection only provides one-way traffic along the two western legs -- Soquel Avenue is one-way eastbound between Poplar Avenue and Morrissey Boulevard, and Water Street is one-way westbound, again between Poplar Avenue and Morrissey Boulevard. Poplar Avenue itself, from Water to Soquel, is one-way southbound, and provides a connection for traffic between Water and Soquel -- eastbound Water traffic can use Poplar to reach Soquel and continue to Morrissey, while westbound Water traffic can use Poplar to continue west along Soquel.

The major problem with this set-up is that Poplar Avenue is really too short to perform what it's being asked to do. The two traffic streams on Poplar, coming from from eastbound and westbound Water Street, must change lanes across each other in order to reach their destinations. While Poplar is two lanes wide (good), it's only a few hundred feet long (bad), thus limiting the number of vehicles that can change lanes before reaching Soquel Avenue.

My solution to this problem has two components. First, I would extend the one-way sections of both Soquel and Water by one block, thereby making Soquel Avenue one-way eastbound between Seabright and Morrissey, and Water Street one-way westbound between Morrissey and Seabright. Seabright Avenue between Water and Soquel would then become one-way southbound. This latter improvement would improve connections between Water and Soquel simply because this block of Seabright is just as wide as Poplar (i.e. two lanes), and is nearly double the length of Poplar, thereby providing more capacity for the traffic traveling between the two streets. With Seabright Avenue now one-way southbound, I would convert Poplar from one-way southbound to one-way northbound. This solution would also create a counter-clockwise traffic pattern along Water, Seabright, Soquel, and Poplar, allowing anyone coming into the area from any direction to easily access all of the businesses along Soquel and Water.

California and Bay Intersection:

California-BayThe intersection of California Avenue, Bay Street, and California Street is an intersection that has been a mess for years. The intersection is really two T-shaped intersections placed right next to each other, which is the whole problem--cars trying to travel from California Avenue to California Street have to first turn left onto Bay Street, then make an immediate right onto California Street. But at least California Avenue traffic gets a 3-way stop sign. Travelers on California Street trying to reach California Avenue must wait for traffic on Bay Street to dissipate enough for them to make the left turn, which causes large backups. Throw into the mix a railroad line that crosses California Street just before the intersection, and nearby Santa Cruz High School and Downtown Santa Cruz, and you've got major problems. I personally feel that the best way to fix this problem is to realign the one block of California Street between Trescony and Bay Street, creating a four-way intersection. While perfect alignment of the two Californias is next to impossible, California Street can be adjusted enough to allow direct access between California Street and California Avenue. The area where the new street would lie is currently part of Nearly Lagoon Park.

With the approval of the Coast Hotel project by the Santa Cruz City Council, improvements would be coming to these intersections, although not in the form I noted above. The environmental impact report for the project calls for signalization of both intersections, with the addition of left turn channelization on Bay Street. The Coast Hotel management has stated that it will fully fund construction of both signals, and therefore their implementation would likely occur as part of the construction of the new hotel. However, after public protest over the hotel approval and real possibility of a citywide vote on the hotel materialized, the hotel management chose to withdraw the project, which likely will also sink the proposed improvements at Bay/California.

Side Note: I suspect that the difference in names betwen the two streets (California Avenue and California Street) was done to emphasize that fact that the two streets are not perfectly aligned. Most likely, when the roads were planned, the city did not want through traffic on the two streets, but now, with the overburdened status of Mission Street, it's very necessary.

Highway 1/Highway 9 Interchange:

Hwys. 1 and 9The traffic control at the Highway 1/Highway 9 intersection is traffic signal. Highway 1 is the only major east-west road in the city which does not pass through both Downtown and the beach area. It is the gateway to the western portion of the city and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). Highway 9 is the north-south street in the intersection, with only the northern part technically being Highway 9 (the southern portion the city maintains, and is called River Street). This north-south route is important, as it leads to such places as Costco (one of those warehouse club stores), Harvey West Park (the city's baseball stadium and public swimming pool), the Harvey West business park (home to the headquarters of companies such as Plantronics and Eric's Deli Cafe), Downtown Santa Cruz, and the Gateway Plaza shopping center.

The intersection is one of the most congested in the county. Vehicle queues on Highway 1 during the peak commute hours can back up to the Ocean Street Extension overpass to the east and past the railroad tracks to the west. Many proposals have been floated around to improve the intersection. As late as 1990, a diamond interchange with a River Street overpass was proposed to replace the intersection, however the overpass right-of-way was sold by Caltrans, part of which became the aforementioned Gateway Plaza shopping center. (There was also a plan by Caltrans to widen Highway 1 to six lanes betwen the Fishhook and Highway 9 as a part of the Fishhook project, which would also require the widening of the San Lorenzo River bridge, that was killed. See the Fishhook Chronology for more information.)

Currently, Caltrans and the City of Santa Cruz are planning to make just lane improvements to the intersection. A second left turn lane would be added on southbound 1 (the eastbound leg of the intersection), and northbound Highway 9 would be widened from one to two lanes between Highway 1 and Encinal Street. A new park-and-ride lot would also be constructed at the northeast corner of the 1/9 intersection (current plans have it incorporated into the city-approved Tannery Arts Center on the old Salz Tannery property). Again, widening of the San Lorenzo River bridge has been brought up again to be built in conjunction with the above improvements, but at this point it looks unlikely.

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Comments? Questions? Corrections? E-mail Jeff Waller (

Green directional sign graphics made with Scott Oglesby's SignMaker Java applet.