Hwy 17 needs an auxiliary lane through Los Gatos, reader says

Dear Street Smarts, Q: Here in Santa Cruz, we have achieved better traffic flow by adding merge lanes to Hwy 1. I was a Los Gatos mountains resident for 25 years, commuting to Cupertino. It finally dawned on me that there should be merge lanes on Highway 17 between Highway 9 and Lark Avenue. There is plenty of room within the current right-of-way. Would do wonders for one of the bigger bottle necks in Santa Clara. Have these ever been discussed? I recently had to drive to San Diego and I took 101 instead of I5 thanks to a tip from Ramona in a recent column. In the Thousand Oaks-Camarillo area, they have converted a four lane freeway to a three lane with merge lanes. Some of these merge lanes can go a mile or more. I have not seen merge lanes so extensively used anywhere else. Regards, Bart Coddington, Aptos A: Caltrans has no such project planned but the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has come up with projects aimed at improving traffic flow on Highway 17 but money to fund such a study and project was not available, said Brandi Childress, agency spokesperson. "VTA does not have a project planned like your reader suggests for this stretch of State Route 17," she said. "We began engineering for ramp metering at State Route 9 that did not move forward due to lack of funding. This would’ve helped the flow of traffic on State Route 17." Childress explained that Santa Clara County no longer has a dedicated funding source for road improvements. Only public transit has funding. The county's 1996 Measure B sales measure raised more than $2 billion to pay for highway and transit improvements, including multiple projects aimed at improving traffic flow on and around Highway 17, she said. Those projects:
  •  Extended the southbound San Tomas Expressway auxiliary lane between Winchester Boulevard and White Oaks Road;
  • Restriped lanes from southbound Interstate 280 to southbound Highway 17;
  • Added northbound auxiliary lanes between State Route 85 and Hamilton Avenue;
  • Modified the off-ramp from southbound Highway 17 to Hamilton Avenue; and
  • Added northbound auxiliary lanes between Camden Avenue and Hamilton Avenue.
"The process to get projects planned, funded and constructed starts with a corridor study to identify need and solutions," said Childress, while noting that the result would bring a project scope and cost estimate to be included in VTA's countywide transportation plan. "This could then generate the start of project development work if funding for such an effort is identified and secured. The good news is that SR 17 is the next corridor VTA plans to study -- after Interstate 680 and Interstate 280. Bad news is, we don’t have funding secured for this yet." Due to the lack of a dedicated funding source and inadequate gas tax income for major highway projects, the agency has used alternatives, such as building express or toll lanes, in which drivers pay to use the lanes, she added. Two such express lanes exist in the Milpitas area on highways 237 and 680. Should Highway 17 one day feature an express or toll lane? What do you think, Street Smarts readers?
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