Helping traffic flow on Hwy 1 requires money

Dear Street Smarts, Q: The letter by Miss Roberson in last Monday's paper supports widening of highway one --again. Instead, can't the engineers at Caltrans design a better 41st Avenue-Bay Avenue-Porter Street interchange? For all the money spent thus far on widening, the jam up is still occurring at this choke point. Please challenge the engineers to rectify that situation before considering any more expensive widening projects. I know there is no quick fix but the everyday parking lot that occurs on this segment of the highway is nothing short of preposterous. Thanks, Frank Rimicci Jr., Corralitos A: You are correct in saying there is no quick fix, said Karena Pushnik, senior transportation planner and spokesperson for the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, and the main issue is money. "As your readers may know, Caltrans is the owner and operator of State Highways and is responsible for routine maintenance and safety projects," she explained. "Many people are under the misconception that Caltrans also pays for new projects on the state highways. However in 1997, Senate Bill 45 designated local transportation planning agencies such as the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission to receive a portion of State Transportation Improvement Funds to make expenditure decisions at the local level. Unfortunately, these funds amount to an average of $5 million per year. For context, the recently completed Highway 1 Soquel/Morrissey Auxiliary Lanes project cost approximately $20 million." Right now, the commission and Caltrans are wrapping up an environmental analysis for projects between Santa Cruz and Aptos along the Highway 1 corridor, said Pushnik. "The estimated cost for an additional lane for the full distance, which requires rebuilding most of the interchanges, is approximately $600 million," she said. "Given this funding challenge, the environmental document will identify a series of projects including, 1) auxiliary lanes, 2) interchanges and 3) the high occupancy vehicle lane for the nearly 9 mile distance." Assuming that funding will be constrained, it is recommended that the above structures be built in that order, continued Pushnik. "Typically, interchanges are expensive because they entail construction of a major bridge structure and many times additional right of way is needed," she said. "The stretch between 41st Avenue and Bay/Porter is currently an auxiliary lane and, without a parallel road, serves as a local frontage road. Historically, approximately 30 percent of vehicles using the auxiliary lane between 41st and Bay/Porter go between the two interchanges getting on at one and off at the next." In the future, plans call for augmenting this stretch with the existing auxiliary lane between 41st and Bay/Porter to make it more of a parallel frontage road with sidewalks and bike lanes, Pushnik explained. There also are plans to install auxiliary lanes between Bay/Porter and Park Avenue because a hump between the two affects traffic flow, as drivers are either speeding up to make it up the hill in the southbound direction or slowing down to exit on the northbound side at Bay/Porter. "This auxiliary lane would provide additional area to reduce the impact of varying speeds as vehicles weave and merge to-and-from the existing through traffic lanes at the Bay/Porter Interchange," she said. "Acknowledging that our community has a multitude of transportation priorities and that state mandates require us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Draft 2014 Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Plan includes three additional auxiliary lane projects on Highway 1 through the year 2035: 41st to Soquel, Park Avenue to Bay/Porter and State Park Drive to Park Avenue." Learn more about the regional transportation plan on the commission's website at www.sccrtc.org.
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